"I can't hear you," the teacher said. "What day is it?"
"OBAMA DAY!" the students cheered, and with that impromptu call-and-response a celebration of the 44th President of the United States was underway.
The school's auditorium was packed with teachers, parents, and friends there to watch the school's black student body from the surrounding Bed-Stuy neighborhood perform a series of songs and dances in honor of Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president.
The festivities took place on Friday, January 16. Four days later, as Obama was sworn into office in Washington D.C., the school hosted an official inauguration ball of its own.
"The students wanted to celebrate and show their happiness," said Harold Anderson, the school's principal.
Anderson said after President Obama was elected students were so inspired they requested permission to put on the events. With the help of teachers, each class spent weeks preparing a short piece for the Obama Day performance.
"The teachers are instilling in the children a sense of opportunity," said Anderson. With Obama's election, "the bar has been raised and teachers know any one of their students could be president some day."
The Obama Day show featured performances by half of the school's 36 classes. Classmates dressed in specially made commemorative tee shirts trouped on stage to recite poems and sing songs with titles like “The Obama Pledge,” “Yes We Can” and the “I Believe Song.” A kindergarten class' dance received a standing ovation from camcorder- and camera-wielding parents.
"We have a lot of school spirit," said Linda Sanders-Peay, the school's parent coordinator and one of the Obama Day organizers, along with Anderson, his staff, and Tony Herbert, a community activist. Sanders said Obama's election has lifted the spirits of the school and community.
"Now we can expand our horizons," Sanders said.
As one longtime C.S. 21 teacher watched her students perform on stage, she said she had never imagined a black person would be elected president in her lifetime. Though her students are still young, said the teacher, they fully understand the significance of the moment.
"For young black kids growing up, it’s difficult to achieve when there are so many obstacles," said the teacher, who asked not to give her name. "If they can see a black man become president, they know they can come from nothing and become something important."