Pearl Coalition aims to tell story of slave revolt, schooner's impact

Students talk about their experience in The Pearl Coalition, an organization fostering a modern understanding of slavery through art, history and culture.
By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2010

About a dozen youths from the District's Deanwood community learned about history, culture and business recently while attending the first arts program from the Pearl Coalition.

The coalition is dedicated to telling the story of the Pearl, a schooner that unsuccessfully tried to lead 77 slaves from the District to freedom in 1848 -- the largest slave revolt in history. In addition to bringing a replica of the schooner to the Southwest Washington waterfront, the coalition is working to develop education programs for youths.

"The young people have been able to tell that story in a different way," said David W. Smith, the coalition's executive director.

Using the Pearl as the basis, the program contracted with youths to research and produce art based on what they have learned for a small stipend. The program was awarded a $50,000 Neighborhood Investment Fund grant from the deputy mayor's office.

The Pearl's artists focused on events that affected African American life between 1831 and 1872 to understand the Pearl's impact in history, said Tendani Mpulubusi, who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and is a teacher for the coalition program.

The class held a program and auction at Busboys and Poets in Northwest last month. Each student explained the importance of an event and displayed an illustration of that time, be it Nat Turner's Rebellion, the Dred Scott decision or the first black members elected to Congress.

In addition to the $400 stipends the students, ages 12 to 21, could earn for participating in the program, prints of their artwork will be sold. The plan is for them to receive 75 percent of the sale price; the other 25 percent will go to the coalition.

"It felt kind of like school," said Deisha Bush, 20, who planned to use her money to further her education at the University of the District of Columbia. "It was something positive to do. It kept you focused . . . [and] shows you there are other things to do."

Jimia Harris, 20, said the stipend brought her through the coalition's doors because she needed money for textbooks.

"The program really helped my personal growth. It took me from doing it for the money to doing it for the purpose of the program -- for the community," she said.

Andre Harper, 19, said he was quickly drawn into the history and now hopes to pursue the arts throughout his life. Miesha Minnick, 16, said she used the class to improve her drawing skills and enjoyed reading up on history.

"We provided them with a good amount of exposure and education that applies to a specific outcome in their lives," Mpulubusi said.

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