Black History Month contest opens doors, connects people through social media

What started as a competition for a pizza party ended up in a viral post with tens of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. For Black History Month, the Key Club held a contest for advisory classes where they could decorate their teacher’s door with a famous African American to win a pizza party.

Theatre teacher Bailey Robert and her advisory class decided to feature Katherine Johnson on their door, a black female rocket scientist on whom the movie “Hidden Figures” was based.

The decorations on the door were based on a scene in the movie when Johnson stands on a ladder doing calculations on a chalkboard. When Robert posted an image of their completed door on Instagram, the post went viral, accumulating over 13,000 likes and around 550 comments.

“I never would have guessed that it would have gone as many places as it did and connect to the people that it did,” Robert said. “It was really fun to watch the numbers grow as more people shared and connected to it.”

Robert’s students were also surprised by how many people were moved by the door’s message.

“I was shocked at first,” freshman Madison Bailey said, “but I was also very glad because I was in awe with how it spread among so many people and has made an impact on so many people. I loved it.”

Many of the students in Bailey’s class had seen “Hidden Figures” and enjoyed it. They wanted to feature Johnson on their door both because of the movie and because to bring attention to her.

“She’s someone whose story is worth being told and is not always featured during Black History Month,” Robert said. “We wanted to feature someone who was not as well-known on our door.”

As the post spread, it reached several prominent people, including Octavia Spencer, the actress who played Dorothy Vaughan in “Hidden Figures.” She re-posted it, and her post garnered over 63,000 likes and 700 comments.

“That was the biggest surprise, to see that she re-posted the door and that her quote was ‘impact felt,’” Robert said. “She saw it and was able to share it with her fan base and keep the message going about Katherine Johnson.”

The post also reached Johnson’s grandson, and he messaged Robert.

“I received a message on social media from the grandson of Katherine Johnson and he said, ‘Thank you so much for featuring my grandmother. She valued the arts as well as math and science and it means a lot to our family,’” Robert said. “It was really sweet to see how far it can go and be connected.”

Robert sees the door’s publicity as a way to not only educate students about important historical figures, but also how today’s technology allows us to connect in ways like never before.

“It think it goes to show how much technology has changed and what a big part of our world it is,” Robert said. “I think this is a really good lesson for students about the power of social media and what you put out there, whether it’s positive or negative, it can go really far so it matters the kind of stories you’re telling and what you’re trying to put out in the world.”