Decorative balloons and streamers adorned the Amphitheatre on April 26 as Middle College High School students celebrated their fifth annual Culture Day by honoring the memory of MCHS teacher Christine Chacha, who founded the celebration.
Chacha, a social sciences teacher who died of cancer in March, had hopes of inspiring her students by promoting understanding through the Culture Day celebration.
This year’s event held even greater meaning for MCHS students who not only celebrated Chacha’s life through the festivities, but also decided to collect donations to support the meal program at a school Chacha established in the village of Shirati in Tanzania, Africa.
Principal Hattie Smith welcomed parents and students to the event with a smile on her face.
She said even in Chacha’s absence, Culture Day is thriving and will be celebrated for years to come.
“This is in memory of Mrs. Chacha,” Smith said. “She would want us to go on and celebrate and be happy.”
Smith said last year Chacha, even while fighting cancer, attended the event she created and loved it.
“She got a chance to come down, dance and hang with the students. She was really happy,” Smith said.
Students came together and sang “We are the World,” while individuals and groups sang songs and danced traditional cultural dances.
MCHS freshman Monica Salton belted out her rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Fallen” and received positive responses from the crowd after hitting the high and low notes.
“This is something I could do not only to represent my culture, but also pay tribute to a wonderful teacher,” Salton said.
She said although she knew Chacha for just a short time, she left a huge impact in her life.
“She made me feel good about myself, and made me eager to learn,” Salton said. “There are not enough teachers in the world who make students feel as if they are the most important person in the world.”
Richmond resident Carolyn Watson said it was important for her to attend Culture Day. Watson, the mother of MCHS student Angelique Daniel, said not only did she want to support her daughter, she wanted to celebrate the life of Chacha as well.
“Although her physical self is not here, I know she is here in spirit,” Watson said. “I feel sort of bittersweet because this is a happy time, but we lost such a beautiful person.”
MCHS students asked for donations for plates of food of many different cultural backgrounds. Dishes ranged from lumpia, rice with cinnamon and nuts, sushi to other finger foods.
MCHS teacher Edward Ballou became the substitute teacher for Chacha’s classes after her absence. After speaking with some of the students about Culture Day, he said he felt he had an obligation to Chacha to keep the event alive.
He said he did not want to see her work go to waste or allow all the planning the students did to go unnoticed.
“She was a great teacher and it is hard shoes to fill. But I think she would be proud,” Ballou said.
Student Briana Brooks, who was mentored by Chacha, said the day was not a sad day, but a day to celebrate and continue her legacy by finishing what she started.