Qadirah Omar, left, and Nyesha Onley present a biography of Bessie Colman, the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license, at the Black History Month celebration at Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney. The evening included a tribute to the school’s name inspiration, who would have turned 100 this month. (Peggy McEwan/THE GAZETTE)

There was birthday cake, balloons, music and entertainment, but mostly a sense of history, as students at Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney celebrated Black History Month last week with a special tribute to the school’s name inspiration.

Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist whose refusal in 1955 to give up her seat for a white passenger on a Montgomery, Ala., bus helped spark the modern civil rights movement for racial equality.

Parks would have turned 100 Feb. 4. She was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Ala., one of the facts students learned in a quiz “Do You Know Rosa?,” presented by eighth-graders at the opening of the evening’s program.

“It is a great idea to get the whole community together to celebrate Black History Month,” said eighth-grader Keaundra Jackson, 13.

Keaundra said she was surprised to learn that Parks had to stop going to school every year when it was time to pick cotton.

The celebration started with dinner in the school’s multipurpose room. About 150 parents, students and teachers sat at tables with centerpieces of books from the school library on the lives of African American trailblazers and heroes, including Walter Dean Myers, a writer of young adult fiction, and Matthew Henson, an explorer who, in 1909, discovered the North Pole with Adm. Robert Peary.

“I think it is especially important that [the students] pause during Black History Month to remember the people who sacrificed so we have our freedoms,” said Principal Donna Redmond Jones.

As the meal ended, the program began. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), the keynote speaker, encouraged students to follow the example of Parks and others by reminding them that Parks was an ordinary person who decided to make a difference.

“All people can make a difference in their communities,” he said.

Students from the school’s hip-hop dance team performed a routine and incorporated some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous words into their dance.

“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream,” King’s voice proclaimed during a pause in the music. The students held up “Dream” signs before resuming their dance.

Sixth-grader Kyara Buckman, 11, a member of the hip-hop team, said she was nervous about dancing but happy the team was a part of the night’s celebration.

Hip-hop “has its roots in the African American community,” she said.

Another team member, Cecelia Federline, 11, said she thought it was “cool because of how these people can be so inspirational.”

Several students prepared readings for the celebration.

Qadirah Omar and Nyesha Onley gave a short biography of Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license. She had to go to Europe to learn to fly because no one in the United States would train a black woman.

Evi Hoang and Alexis Houston read from King’s writings.

“This is good. It helps people learn about our history,” said eighth-grader Nacala Robinson, 13. She said she learned that Parks got married when she was 19.

Naomie Vil, 13, a seventh-grader, said Black History Month celebrations can affect students personally.

“I came to support the school. Black history is important to inspire us,” she said.