Black History is American History: Schoolwide Celebration Features AR, Music and More

What would it be like to meet Muhammad Ali and ask him anything you want? UCLA Lab School students had the chance to find out during this year’s Black History Celebration in February. Parents MJ Glover and Juan Carlos “JC” Leon created an Augmented Reality (AR) experience to introduce students to the GOAT. All Lab School students were invited to interact with Ali during 30-minute Zoom sessions in their virtual classrooms.

An introductory video (above) gave students a preview of the AR technology. With his signature flair, Ali introduced himself to the students. In addition to touting his skill as a world-class athlete, he stressed the importance of having good moral character and standing up for people who are treated unfairly. The AR Ali was brought to life by voice-over actor Jason Linere White and 3D designer Candie Quach.

The awe-inspiring experience was part of a project coordinated by the school’s Black History Celebration Committee. It grew out of an idea by parent Shalandra Champ, a member of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee who envisioned a celebration of Black History Month as unique as the school itself. Inspired by the breadth and depth of the subject, Champ imagined a diverse suite of interactive experiences to honor and explore our past. The first project, organized in the 2018-2019 school year, was a partnership with portrait artist YoYo Lander. With Lander, Champ realized a yearbook style art installation, depicting iconic Black figures in their adolescent years.

An art installation depicting iconic Black figures in their adolescent years was the vision of parent volunteer Shalandra Champ and artist YoYo Lander to encourage UCLA Lab School students to dream big

By design, the art installation included figures outside the scope of those traditionally celebrated. Through engagement with the work, students reflected on their own ambitions, encouraging them to dream big.

That project was the catalyst for the Black History Celebration Committee. Originally comprised of two parent volunteers, the committee has grown to more than 20 members, including parents, demonstration teachers, and staff.

The 2020 Black History Celebration featured an exhibition at the school to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to American History.

In February 2021, faced with the challenges of the COVID-19 context, the celebration shifted to an online format. Instead of shrinking, however, it expanded to honor even more Black Americans.

Led by Champ and Glover, the committee created a multi-faceted program around the message, “Black history is American history.” The result was a series of unique virtual experiences that offered a deeper understanding of some of the people who have made important contributions to our country and the world but are not often given the credit they deserve.

Some of the elements of the program included:

AR Experience with Muhammad Ali

Voices of Action Choir: Lift Every Voice & Sing

Black History is American History, Virtual Assembly

The Strong Dominoes Series

On This Day Facts

On This Day Facts | Reading List

On This Day Facts | Music Resources

Black Family Reunion — The Community Photo Archive Project

The Augmented Reality (AR) experience created by Glover and Leon was a highlight of the series. Students posed thought-provoking questions such as “How was boxing like stinging like a bee?” “Why do you consider yourself the GOAT?” and “What inspires you?”

Ali’s live responses were charismatic and typically accompanied by a smile and a laugh, as seen in the image below. They embodied the athletic hero’s persona effortlessly. Glover and Leon designed the project to teach students that technology is more than just something to consume — it is an interactive tool with which to create and educate.


Boxing legend and cultural icon Muhammad Ali visited with UCLA Lab School students in an Augmented Reality (AR) experience created by MJ Glover and Juan Carlos “JC” Leon, parent members of the school’s Black History Celebration Committee

This epic opportunity to hang with the boxing legend set the bar high for community events to come. Members noted that they hope to sustain the new dialogue opened by “Black history is American history.” Their goal is to foster empathy in consideration of differences within our community and to encourage exploration with the awareness that there are “numerous points of entry to access vital pieces of history.” Committee members noted they look forward to continuing their involvement with the project and modeling for children what is possible with vision, support, and hard work.

UCLA Lab School would like to thank the following community members for their contributions to this year’s celebration:

Shalandra Champ, Co-Chair
MJ Glover, Co-Chair
Meron Abebaw
Zubaidah Allen
Monisha Amos
Elaine Bradshaw
Tamar Chafets
Shanna Cohen
Janelle Connor
Iman Farrior
Nicole Husband
Verneece Jackson
Judith Kantor
JC Leon
Alanah Maguire
Aisha Marshall
Ashley May
Ashley Oaks
Jane Parkes
Desa Philadelphia
Daniela Ruelas
Maria Suchard
Alicia Trent
Joseph Vaudreuil