Artist Harold Caudio Sweetens Up TNCS’s Black History Month Celebration!

Rounding out the month of February, students at The New Century School put on a first-of-its-kind show at the school. Although celebrating Black History Month has always been a theme in classrooms, this year, at the suggestion of TNCS Parent Council Director Sakina Ligon, it expanded to the stage. (Read about TNCS’s Inaugural Black History Month Celebration and see photos of projects as well as videos of choral and other performances here.) Also note that Head of School Shara Khon Duncan and Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau ensure that African Americans—as well as people from a variety of backgrounds—are represented across the school curriculum throughout the year.

In last week’s post, Immersed hinted at what made the Black History Month celebration extra special even beyond all the wonderful student efforts led by Javan Bowden (aka, “Mr. B”)—the visit by Florida artist Harold Caudio—but this visit warrants a post all of its own. So, it’s time now to meet Mr. Caudio, take a closer look at his one-of-a-kind art, and hear his inspiring message.

Welcome to TNCS, Harold Caudio!

Asked to present at the evening by family friend Ms. Ligon, Mr. Caudio made the 13-hour drive from West Palm Beach to Baltimore in a single day. This huge effort was not lost on the TNCS community, and the audience continuously demonstrated their immense appreciation. Something else elevated his visit to legendary status. . . the date, February 26th. On the same day back in 2012, high school junior Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, by a neighborhood watch captain, launching nationwide protests. Trayvon was unarmed, carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea. He was 17 years old.

The Colored Collection

That injustice haunts the country, but for Mr. Caudio it was the impetus to create “The Colored Collection,” a series of portraits of iconic black individuals, the first of which was Trayvon Martin titled “Justus.” The medium he uses? Mr. Caudio’s portraits are done in Skittles, in honor of Trayvon. The name of his collection is thus a play on words on many levels: In an artist bio, the author writes, “Harold named the artwork ‘The Colored Collection’ because we, as ‘colored’ people have had a huge impact on society and culture; we color the world. It’s a way of flipping an insult and making it impactful pop art. The idea of the collection is to bring people together, no matter what color or background while spreading unity and peace.” It’s also a nod to the Skittles themselves, which are known for their bright colors that invite us to “taste the rainbow.”

The story of Trayvon resonated with Mr. Caudio personally. As a black (Haitian American) man, it struck him—again, quoting from the bio—“how easily it could’ve been him, or his son, brother, cousin, or friend.” That sense impelled him to do something, to make art, in fact.

Mr. Caudio was not new to the creation of art. “From as far as I can remember,” he says, “I have been making art since I first learned to pick up a crayon and color, doing kiddy stuff like drawing on the walls and getting trouble,” he joked. Although he didn’t necessarily take art seriously at the age of 3, he has since worked with several media, including clay, bronze sculpting, acrylic, pastels, and so on. In addition to his portraiture, he currently has a clothing line called Cultured Revolution that he talks about briefly in this clip.

Back to the “The Colored Collection,” other individuals he has immortalized include Michael Jackson; Tupac; Xxxtentacion; Beyoncé, Rihanna (pictured below, though many mistake this one for Lauryn Hill); Toussaint Louverture (also pictured below; hint, he’s the only one wearing epaulets) Bob Marley; Will Smith; ; Michelle Obama; and, his most recent work, Kobe Bryant, which he débuted at TNCS. That was one powerful moment, with Kobe and his daughter Gianna having tragically died in a helicopter crash only a few weeks prior.

So how does Mr. Caudio choose the people he portrays?

I choose people that I relate to Skittles candy. Those who make people feel good, who move the culture forward. If they have a sweet, positive impact on society, I aim to immortalize that message with my art. When I think of Skittles, I think of the mantra ‘taste the rainbow.’ The different colors represent us as a people. If we come together, we can be beautiful just like the figures I choose to do are doing.

The process he uses to capture these faces so beautifully, he says, is all about lighting. “I maximize seven colors and play with the lights from darks until it makes sense.” He had to borrow white Skittles from the UK, where they were made to celebrate LGBTQ Pride, but otherwise, he buys Skittles by the gallon from Walmart. White Skittles don’t have a special flavor—they taste like another color, but the taster won’t know which one until it’s on the tongue! Even in the white Skittles, though, there is inherent symbolism. Although white is itself achromatic, it reflects all the visible wavelengths of light. According to the “additive color theory,” all the colors of light together create white. Apply that to Mr. Caudio’s art, and you again get his idea that society comprises people of all colors, and their individual contributions are beautiful, as is what those collective contributions create.

Most of Mr. Caudio’s 17 total pieces are on exhibit in South Florida, but he accepts commissions for custom portraits (“dog, cat, bird,” he joked) and is also willing to auction pieces for charity. JUSTUS, for example, was purchased by Queen B’s mom for her WACO (Where Art Can Occur) Theater Center. His works are designed to last, he explains. “They’re coated with resin and mixed materials to last forever, from what I can see. They don’t attract bugs,” he later joked. They take, on average, about 2 weeks to create. JUSTUS, though, his first, took 6 months while he got the hang of his process and absorbed the import of what he was creating.

If you’re detecting an influence from another Haitian American artist whose pop art–esque portraits were also saturated with color, you wouldn’t be off base. Mr. Caudio cites Jean-Michel Basquiat as a primary influence as well as Bob Ross and Roy Lichtenstein in the modern world. He also appreciates many of the Renaissance painters.

Q&A with Harold Caudio

After the student performances on Black History Month night, Mr. Caudio gave a brief presentation about his work, then Ms. Ligon facilitated a question-and-answer session between audience members and the artist.

Ms. Ligon also made sure to give TNCS students a chance to grill Mr. Caudio. (Perhaps not surprisingly, many of their questions are about candy.)

Mr. Caudio’s works remained on display in the auditorium after the student performances so attendees could get a closer look at the portraits and meet the very generous, very warm, and very funny Harold Caudio. His visit will certainly go down in the annals of great moments at TNCS!

IMG_6698

Artist Harold Caudio and TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan are shown here flanking Mr. Caudio’s portrait of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, celebrated general of the 18th-century Haitian Revolution.


More From the Artist Bio:
His most recent collection was featured at Art Basel Miami 2018 and Art Palm Beach 2019. Harold created the ‘The Colored Collection’, an emotion-evoking series of portraits made entirely out of Skittles. Word has traveled and continues to spread rapidly about this collection, it’s already been viewed by millions of people, gone viral on social media sites and featured in numerous big publications & networks such as Business Insider, Young Turks, NBC, ABC world news, Palm Beach post, LA Times, Fox News, Wearable Art Gala feat Beyoncé, 60 minutes, and more.

TNCS’s Inaugural Black History Month Celebration!

At The New Century School, celebrations of culture and heritage are held regularly throughout the year, as befits the school’s mission. On Wednesday, February 26th, TNCS held a brand-new celebration/performance in honor of Black History Month. This wonderful, already much-loved event will be held annually, joining Spanish Heritage Night (that debuted in 2017) and Lunar New Year Celebration (that debuted last month).

IMG_4138 copy

Black History Month Celebration grew out of a shared desire among TNCS parents, teachers, and staff to observe Black History Month from the (upper) school-wide perspective to complement the in-class explorations regularly undertaken. TNCS Music Director Javan Bowden (aka, “Mr. B”) led students in a short choral concert, then students made division-specific presentations in their respective classrooms. These took the form of in-depth investigations of individual influential African Americans to special performance art.

At least, that was the original plan. A few days before the event, TNCS parent and Head of the TNCS Parent Council Sakina Ligon announced a very special surprise: Haitian American artist Harold Caudio agreed to join the celebration and present his one-of-a-kind (truly!) art. This presentation happened after the choral performances by students and deserves a post all of its own. Look for Immersed’s interview with Mr. Caudio next week. You won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, enjoy this preview.

Choral Performances

Mr. Bowden has been working hard with TNCS K through 8th-grade students all year on harmony. Nowhere is this more evident than in America the Beautiful (music by Samuel A. Ward, lyrics by Katherine Lee Bates, arr. Paul Jennings), a song that hit the perfect note to start off the evening. To briefly address the elephant in the blog, we wouldn’t be celebrating Black History Month were it not to begin to surmount the historic blight of slavery.

Next, students joined together in a traditional West African song (arranged by Rollo Dilworth). “Since music is an integral part of African life and culture,” read the student emcee, “every citizen is expected to develop basic skills in singing and dancing. One song and dance tradition found all over west Africa, including Liberia, is called Fanga Alafia. It is a dance of celebration use to welcome all people. The words in the Yoruba language are as follows: “fanga alafia, ashé, ashé.” Fanga means “welcome.” Alafia means “peace, good will.” The word ashé means “I agree.” This West African folk tune exhibits call and response—one singer calls with a melodic statement, then is answered with a response.

After this rousing, upbeat song, students sang Dry Your Tears, Afrika (music by John Williams, lyrics include an adapted excerpt from the poem “Dry Your Tears, Africa” by Bernard Dadi, arranged by Rollo Dilworth), another uplifting song that translates:

Dry your tears, Afrika,
Your children are coming home. We’re coming home, Afrika.
Hush child, don’t cry.
Sing a song of joy.
We’re coming home, Afrika.

Said the student who introduced it:

This piece was . . .  was composer John Williams’ contribution to the film Amistad. Amistad is a 1997 historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg based on the notable mutiny in 1839 by newly captured Mende slaves who took control of the ship La Amistad off the coast of Cuba and the international legal battle that followed their capture by a U.S. revenue brig. It became a U.S. supreme court case in 1841. The language that is sung throughout is Mende, a West African dialect primarily spoken in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A TNCS stalwart came next—good old, Stand By Me (words and music by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Ben E. King, arranged by Roger Emerson), a song that fits so many occasions.

They closed out with Lift Every Voice and Sing (words by James Weldon Johnson, music by J. Rosamond Johnson, and arranged by Rollo Dilworth). The student introduction tells you everything you need to know about this song of solidarity:

It was right at the turn of the last century in which James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and his brother John Rosamond Johnson later set those words to music. Often referred to as the ‘Negro National Anthem,’ this song of justice has been and continues to be performed in a variety of contexts, including civil rights marches, concerts, community gatherings, church services, commencement ceremonies, and celebrations of black history. While this piece remains prominent within African American culture, it is widely performed by people of all races and backgrounds. Its universal themes of liberation and perseverance enable us to reflect on our shared history while at the same time encouraging us all to become agents of social justice and social change.

Student Projects

As their Global Studies unit for the beginning of quarter 3, students researched and created visual presentations of a black leader, whether in politics, the arts, sports, or any other realm. They got extra points for supporting props!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Play

Finally, TNCS 5th- and 6th-graders, wrote, directed, and starred in a play that highlights some of the brilliant achievements by African Americans that have made everyone’s lives better the world over.


Maybe it’s because they needed something to throw themselves into during the winter doldrums, or maybe they were just deeply, deeply inspired. Whatever the reason, students gave this night their all. We’re already looking forward to next year! In fact, Ms. Ligon spoke for many of us when she expressed her gratitude to TNCS admin: “Thank you for taking my passion and concern and making Black History night at TNCS. I am over the moon with the efforts of the staff and students.” It is, however, Mr. B himself who said it best: “Black history is American history.”

And, don’t forget, we get to ride these great vibes another week in anticipation of a post on Harold Caudio!

TNCS Elementary & Middle Visit the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Meyers Maritime Park!

February marked Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, the annual celebration of notable achievements by African Americans as well as a time to reflect on their critical role in the history of the United States. This period of recognition dates back to 1915, 50 years post-emancipation, when historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), formerly the ASNLH. This organization went on to sponsor a week dedicated to Americans of African descent during the second week of February, which coincides with the birthdays of two of the most important figures in all of U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Since 1976, that week has expanded to embrace the whole month of February, and each year the sitting ASALH has established a different theme for Black History Month. For 2019, that theme was “Black Migration.” According to their website:

The theme Black Migrations equally lends itself to the exploration of the century’s later decades from spatial and social perspectives, with attention to “new” African Americans because of the burgeoning African and Caribbean population in the United States; Northern African Americans’ return to the South; racial suburbanization; inner-city hyperghettoization; health and environment; civil rights and protest activism; electoral politics; mass incarceration; and dynamic cultural production.

Elementary and middle school students at The New Century School learned last month just how Baltimore figures into this theme in very important ways. Although Maryland upheld the constitutionality of slave-holding from 1715 through 1864, the city of Baltimore was a hybrid of northern and southern proclivities. Being so close to the Mason-Dixon line, it was a stopover point for escaping slaves headed north to abolitionist states or Canada. It was also home to many freed former slaves, one of whom was Frederick Douglass himself.

tncs-visits-frederick-douglass-museum

TNCS Head of School Alicia first gave some preparatory social/emotional learning lessons tailored to first one cohort of 4th- through 8th-graders and, later, a second cohort of 2nd- and 3rd-graders.

After, they walked through Fell’s Point to the Frederick Douglass | Isaac Myers Maritime Park & Museum overlooking the harbor on Thames St. and now under the aegis of Living Classrooms.

TNCS students would explore some big questions prior, during, and after their visit: “How can one man own another?” for example. They would also consider the Underground Railroad and how so much of a runaway slave’s chance of successful escape was completely out of their own control— how much uncertainty and difficulty a slave would likely encounter.

The students were completely captivated by the interactive exhibits. They will not soon forget their encounter with Frederick Douglass or with what it was like to follow the North Star with the fervent hope of reaching a better place.

tncs-visits-frederick-douglass-museum

TNCS Elementary Walks back through History with Frederick Douglass!

February marks Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, the annual celebration of notable achievements by African Americans as well as a time to reflect on their critical role in the history of the United States. This period of recognition dates back to 1915, 50 years post-emancipation, when historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). This organization went on to sponsor a week dedicated to Americans of African descent during the second week of February, which coincides with the birthdays of two of the most important figures in all of U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Since 1976, that week has expanded to embrace the whole month of February, and each year the sitting U.S. president has established a different theme for Black History Month. For 2016, that theme is “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories.”

Elementary students at The New Century School learned last week that Baltimore can be counted as one of these hallowed places in U.S. history. Although Maryland upheld the constitutionality of slave-holding from 1715 through 1864, the city of Baltimore was a hybrid of northern and southern proclivities. Being so close to the Mason-Dixon line, it was a stopover point for escaping slaves headed north to abolitionist states or Canada. It was also home to many freed former slaves, one of whom was Frederick Douglass himself.

IMG_8029

TNCS Elementary students explore Fell’s Point, an area steeped in history and human endeavor.

TNCS students got to experience a walking tour of Baltimore through the eyes of none other than this humanist visionary, hearing how he escaped from slavery to become one of the greatest and most influential abolitionist leaders, among all of his other celebrated accomplishments, including being the first African American to hold a high government office. Brought to life by teacher, historian, blogger, and self-styled “griot” Dr. Brian C. Morrison, “Frederick Douglass” mesmerized the kids with his life story. Pointing out places where he lived and worked as they walked, he explained how he escaped both actual bondage as well as broke free of the less tangible shackling of 19th-century U.S. society, in which even free people of color were not accorded the rights to education, voting, land-holding, etc. of U.S. citizens.

IMG_8031

Intellectual and influential speaker Frederick Douglass, as played by Dr. Brian C. Morrison.

Dr. Morrison supports the William J. Watkins, Sr. Educational Institute, which was established “to ensure that ALL children, especially those in under-served and under-resourced communities receive the best education possible.” In this way, he not only inhabits the character of Frederick Douglass but also continues Douglass’ legacy as an advocate for civil and human rights, the pursuit of education, and free debate.

The walking tour culminated at the Frederick Douglass | Isaac Myers Maritime Park & Museum located overlooking the harbor on Thames St. in Fell’s Point, where Frederick Douglass took a few questions before they visited the exhibits. TNCS students asked questions that got to the heart of the matter: “How can one man own another?” for example.

The learning didn’t stop there. Elementary Language Arts and Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch always finds ways to connect her dual subjects, so, on returning from their walking tour, TNCS students were asked to compose a narrative from a runaway slave’s point of view. “I set up a simulation in which they rolled a die to see where they might wind up after fleeing the plantation they started from,” said Ms. Stasch. “It was the luck of the dice to see where they went next at each step of the journey.” This showed the students that so much of a slave’s chance of successful escape was completely out of their own control: “They saw how much uncertainty and difficulty a slave would likely encounter.” After they had the blueprint of their stories, they were asked to reflect on the journey along the Underground Railroad and the outcome—some made it to freedom and some did not—and then write about them.

IMG_8046

Abolitionist poster.

“They were completely captivated by this interactive experience,” said Ms. Stasch, “and I got really great feedback from them about this unit.” She has other activities and possible field trips planned throughout the upcoming weeks related to Black History Month, but TNCS elementary students will not soon forget their encounter with Frederick Douglass or with what it was like to follow the North Star with the fervent hope of reaching a better place.