The diversity of Whitehall-Yearling High School's student body will be showcased during its first African Night, set from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, in the auditorium at the school, 675 S. Yearling Road.

African Night is Whitehall-Yearling's first production to celebrate the heritage of the school's black and African-American students and will feature traditional food, vendors and performances, said Crystal Johnson, interim principal of the high school.

Similar to the way the school's annual Latino Night was founded in 2016, a group of students made an "impressive and persuasive" written proposal to Johnson in early January to establish an African Night, said Doug Shoemaker, director of support services and community relations for Whitehall schools.

Shoemaker said Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services helped plan the event.

The Columbus-based organization helps new arrivals from all countries establish roots and gain self-sufficiency in central Ohio through its programs and services, according to its website.

Whitehall City Schools has more families from Ethiopia than any other African nation, according to district spokesman Ty Debevoise, and the Ethiopian language Amharic is the third most prevalent language behind English and Spanish.

"Our students knew about (African Night events) in neighboring districts and wanted to do one for themselves here at Whitehall-Yearling," Shoemaker said.

Students have been meeting after school to plan and rehearse for the event.

"This production is student-led, -organized and -planned (and) was initiated as a student proposal," Johnson said. "Students wanted to introduce a night where we embrace these diverse cultures in order to promote and support the many African nationalities in our school."

Whitehall-Yearling senior Zecharias Hailu is among the students who led the event's planning and organization.

Hailu said he organized the festival because he thought not enough was being done to recognize African culture or Black History Month, which is February.

"The different backgrounds and identities within the walls of Whitehall-Yearling (are not) showcased (enough), which is why this event is long overdue," Hailu said.

In addition to showcasing African culture, students also laying the groundwork to make it an annual event, Hailu said.

African Night will include A Taste of Africa, with "soul and comfort foods" provided by central Ohio restaurants, plus a fashion show featuring cultural clothing from various African nations.

"Within our show, there will be multiple performances, from singing and poetry to traditional dancing and more," Hailu said.

Whitehall administrators lauded the students' initiative and efforts.

"I was so impressed with the thoughtful and powerful student proposal," Johnson said. "At Whitehall-Yearling, we are intentional about bringing learning to life by providing opportunities and experiences to our students, as well as community members, that extend beyond the classroom."

African Night is free and open to the public.