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Living History Youth Summer Institute Closing Ceremony honored five students for completing the six-week course.

"Impactful." "Powerful." "Eye-opening."

Those words — those strong words — were a common refrain from the students and educators who spoke in the Museum's Liberty Hall of Friday, Aug. 12, as the first class of five students graduated from the inaugural Living History Youth Summer Institute.

The program, which was created to cultivate and support a more diverse community of people engaged in the museum field and specifically the area of costumed living history interpretation, is part of the Museum's African American Interpretive Program, sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal. The six-week summer institute, which ran for the first time this summer in July and August 2022, provided an intensive course for five young adults interested in interpreting the lives of people of African ancestry in the Revolutionary era. 

"It was a privilege to work with such a dedicated group of participants for the inaugural Living History Youth Summer Institute," said Michael Idriss, the Museum's African American Interpretive Fellow. "Each one brought their own perspective and skillset to the program, and they were able to add an assortment of skills and experiences to their repertoire."

At the graduation, one student, Christina Collins, a senior at West Chester University, talked about the class making her feel a greater appreciation for her ancestors from Liberia and the sacrifices they made. Another, Carl Pierre-Louis, a 2022 George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science graduate heading to Temple University in the fall, spoke of his renewed sense of curiosity to learn more about the world around him.

"Now through this program, I've come back to my curious self, to always asking why, and suppressing the always-accepting part of myself," Pierre-Louis said to the Liberty Hall crowd. "Throughout this program, it's just been eye-opening."

Idriss led the program alongside the Museum's Dr. Tyler Putman and Clare McCabe. To supplement, they welcomed a number of guest speakers, including public historians Cheyney McKnight, Marvin-Alonzo Greer, and Kalela Williams; "Meet James Forten" actor Nathan Alford-Tate and playwright Marissa Kennedy; historical costumer Jana Violante; and Temple professor Dr. Gregory Urwin, among others. The group also went on a range of research trips, including to nearby sites like Mother Bethel AME, Betsy Ross House, and Independence Seaport Museum as well as sites outside of Philadelphia like Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, New Jersey; Red Bank Battlefield in Gloucester County, New Jersey; and Dennis Farm in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

The summer institute culminated in a capstone experience on Aug. 6 at Clark Park in West Philadelphia where the students set up the Museum's replica of George Washington’s Revolutionary War encampment, dressed in 18th-century clothing, and demonstrated what life was like for Washington and the soldiers, camp followers, and enslaved people who traveled with him on campaign.

"The highlight for me was seeing the group gel as a cohort that grew to really care about one another," Idriss said. "They bonded quickly and were able to complement each other as they gained knowledge about historical costumed interpretation, a variety of career paths in the Museum field, and the importance of being a good storyteller especially in communicating the work of both free and enslaved people of African descent.

"Not only did this group build a foundation that we can continue to develop for the future, but they also blazed a trail by helping to bring the replica of Washington's tent out of the Museum and into the West Philadelphia community." 

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Three students from the Museum's Living History Youth Summer Institute pose for a photo in from the Museum's recreated George Washington's tent in Clark Park.

Living History Youth Summer Institute

The Museum offers a six-week intensive summer course for young adults interested in interpreting the lives of people of African ancestry in the Revolutionary era.
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Meet The Revolution Kalela Williams

Meet the Revolution

Learn more about our Meet the Revolution series of costumed living history programs that explore the voices, viewpoints, and experiences of the diverse people of the Revolutionary era.
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A father holds his child as they look at the Forten family tree in the Museum's Black Founders exhibit.

Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia

February 11 - November 26, 2023
Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia explored the story of James Forten and his descendants as they navigated the American Revolution and cross-racial relationships in Philadelphia to later become leaders in the abolition movement in the lead-up to the Civil War.
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