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Robinson students celebrate black history with Knowledge Bowl.

From the Brown v. Board of Education decision to George Clinton's influence on music, Robinson Secondary School students displayed a dazzling familiarity with historical facts Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Black History Knowledge Bowl. The event, organized by the Minority Students of Robinson Secondary School, gave audience members a chance to learn important facts in the history of black Americans.

"It’s good because the kids get an appreciation for African-American history," said Coy Pilson, Robinson's 10th-grade subschool principal.

The Knowledge Bowl began with current senior Candice Celestin. Three years ago, Celestin, 18, approached principal Dan Meier and asked if she could organize an event that would not only celebrate Black History Month but also educate people. Meier liked the idea and provided initial funding, and each year since then, the Knowledge Bowl has grown.

"It’s a fun way of learning about the achievements of African-Americans," said Celestin. This year, the sophomore team became the Knowledge Bowl champion and won a gift certificate to Fair Oaks Mall.

The Knowledge Bowl has become a Robinson tradition, said Meier, thanks to the dedication of Celestin and her peers. "Here's a young lady who is in her fifth year here, and she's left a legacy that's become an annual tradition that will be enjoyed for years to come," he said.

"We have a motto: 'Keeping the promise by uniting cultures,'" said Deloris Witcher, director of the Minority Students of Robinson program. "This event really embodies that." The students who work on the Knowledge Bowl come from all different backgrounds and all work together, whether organizing the event, behind the microphone answering questions, or emceeing the program, she said.

"[Celestin] wanted to get a large segment of the student body to be represented," said Pilson. "She tries to do a real cross-section."

REACHING ACROSS cultures is the goal of the Knowledge Bowl, said Celestin. "This history is not only important for African-Americans, but for all cultures," she said. "What makes it really special is when you look on stage, you don't just see African-Americans."

Because Robinson’s student body is predominantly white, said Witcher, being a minority student has its own challenges.

Celestin agreed. "You can be in a classroom and be the only African-American, the only Asian," she said. But the school is a safe environment, said Celestin, and student organizations such as Minority Students of Robinson help bring people together.

The most impressive thing about the Knowledge Bowl, said Pilson, is that it is completely student-run. "From beginning to finish, they are in charge," said Pilson.

On their own, he said, the students put together study groups to compile black history facts, promoted the event, and developed a partnership with cosponsor Fairfax County Department of Family Services.

Organizers selected panelists to represent each grade and answer questions ranging from facts about history to literature to inventors, said senior Crystal Nwokorie, Minority Students of Robinson executive board member.

Finding panelists is somewhat of a challenge, said board member and 10th-grader Manjot Jassal. "You have to find kids who are interested," she said. But Saturday's panelists were well-prepared and enthusiastic, she said.

The students also receive a great deal of support from Minority Parents of Robinson Secondary School, a group formed to provide help and information to minority students.

"This event is absolutely fantastic for several reasons," said Mary Williams, a member of Minority Parents of Robinson. "It’s exposing many people to the wonderful things African-Americans have done in this country and made it a little better for everyone." It also allows the students to give back to their community, she said.

Besides sharing knowledge with audience members and the larger Robinson community, the event also helps the students broaden their own understanding of history, said Meier.

"We've seen how far our society has come and we want our students to understand that," he said.