Kartra Johnson said he has participated in every Black History Month student production at the New Albany-Plain Local School District since coming to the district as an eighth-grader.

Johnson was born in Mansfield, where he attended private school before his family moved to New Albany for his father's job. He had not had an opportunity to showcase his cultural heritage before, other than at church, he said.

That first year, Johnson was able to sing with an ensemble for the annual production to celebrate Black History Month.

"It was amazing," he said.

Now a 17-year-old senior at New Albany High School, Johnson is using this year's production, "Stick With Love," to fulfill his senior-seminar project. Senior seminar is a New Albany High School graduation requirement in which students research an idea and create a product or complete a project; they must document 80 hours of work.

Johnson said he is researching what goes into the annual celebration, along with the history of the program and Black History Month itself.

He said he also will sing Nat King Cole's "Love" to open "Stick With Love," which will be performed for the community at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts, 100 W. Dublin-Granville Road.

Tickets and registration are not required for the free community show, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

"Stick With Love" will be presented at grade-level assemblies on Friday, Feb. 22, for students in grades 3 to 12, according to the district website.

Johnson said he is proud of his heritage and is honored to have the opportunity to share it with others.

"People need to know that black history is a part of American history," he said.

Sean Hooper, an intervention specialist at New Albany High School who has served as director of the district's Black History Month celebration for nearly 15 years, said the annual production has been held at the McCoy for the past eight years.

The celebration originated with students' efforts and expanded from there, he said.

An understanding of African-American contribution to culture through science, art and music is important for students, Hooper said.

Each year, the celebration focuses on something new, he said. This year, the production will focus on U.S. Supreme Court cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia and Garner v. Louisiana.

Those cases involved racial segregation in schools, interracial marriage and sit-in protests, respectively.

In addition to Johnson's introduction by Nat King Cole, music will include an Aretha Franklin tribute medley, Hooper said.

Richelle Collins, a 16-year-old junior, said she is choreographing the dance finale. She said it features a collection of songs Johnson chose to represent success in black history.

"The idea for the finale dance is to have fun and celebrate black history," Collins said.

The program also will include a contemporary lyrical dance suite choreographed by Melissa Gould, artistic director at New Vision Dance Company, Hooper said. It will feature an interracial couple and will be based on Loving v. Virginia, he said.

Richard Loving will be portrayed by New Albany Middle School eighth-grader Dominic Catrone.

Catrone, 14, said showing support for people's ability to come together is important, especially given divisions present in the world.

The other half of that historic couple, Mildred Loving, will be portrayed by 15-year-old sophomore Clara Love.

Love said the Lovings are similar to her parents, another interracial couple.

"It really hits close to home," she said.

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