Home News and Features Clemmons Family Farm Mobilizes the Arts and Black Joy

Clemmons Family Farm Mobilizes the Arts and Black Joy

Collage art by Kia’Rae Hanron, inspired by Bessie Coleman. Photo by Kia’Rae Hanron.
In honor of Black History Month, the Clemmons Family Farm has invited the public to celebrate the lives of Bessie Coleman (stunt pilot) and Bessie Stringfield (cross-country motorcycle rider), two African American women pioneers of motorcycle and airplane travel, who rose above Jim Crow era race and gender discrimination in pursuit of adventure and joy. 

The Clemmons Family Farm, an African American-led nonprofit organization based in Charlotte, is releasing “Two Bessies on Two Wheels” to help catalyze learning and dialogue about African American history in classrooms, homes, and communities. The free history curriculum is designed for K–5 learners. The curriculum is available at clemmonsfamilyfarm.org from Feb. 1. to March 1. 

Lydia Clemmons, Ph.D., M.P.H., president and executive director of the Clemmons Family Farm, said 130 people have enrolled in the program thus far. Although the majority of students are from Vermont, learners based in Hawaii, Washington, and other states have also joined.

The online curriculum provides lesson plans and curated resources, including downloadable worksheets, coloring pages, and art projects that inspire kids to create collages, songs, and poems about the two icons of U.S. history: Bessie Coleman, the first African American and Native American to obtain a pilot’s license, and Bessie Stringfield, the first African American woman to ride a motorcycle across the United States.

According to Clemmons, the organization’s K–12 Arts Learning Adviser Kia’Rae Hanron, who grew up in Montpelier, wrote the bulk of the “Two Bessies on Two Wheels” curriculum.

“‘Two Bessies’ tells stories that haven’t been told. It really is for everyone. We want kids to have positive role models that help them become inspired. I wish we had more examples of people mobilizing around joy. We want students to learn about courage and resilience as a skill, and the ability to be joyful and do it because it can save your life,” said Clemmons. She added that during a time where acts of violence and pent-up anger have resulted in classroom disruptions, “Two Bessies on Two Wheels” is tied to using the arts and creativity to help children channel, process, and express thoughts and emotions more constructively. 

The curriculum package is available online as part of the “Windows to a Multicultural World K–12 program,” “Traveling While Black: African American history and African diaspora culture through the lens of the African American experience of travel from the transatlantic slave trade to present day,” which is led by a team of Vermont teaching artists of African descent. 

The farm is also inviting families to participate in a state-wide music video storyboard contest “Vroom!” during Black History Month. The contest is open to Vermont K–5 classrooms (and homeschoolers), and the deadline is 5 p.m. on March 1. 

“I wouldn’t have known about these two women, who embodied excellence in their trade, had Clemmons Family Farm not asked me to write a song about them as a part of their “Windows …” curriculum. As an African from the diaspora, it gave me a deep sense of belonging and connection to Black Americans. I felt honored to be chosen to write a song about their experiences. These two wonderful, courageous women who were determined to overcome all barriers stacked against them — during a time when discrimination based on race, skin color, and gender was legal — ended up becoming icons in U.S. history,” said singer-songwriter KeruBo. 

Storyboard contest winners will collaborate with KeruBo in the music video. Through a collaboration with Wilkins Harley-Davidson of Barre and with funding in part from the Vermont Arts Council, the video will be filmed at Wilkins Harley-Davidson in Barre and in other Vermont locations identified through the storyboard contest. 

“Imagine mobilizing a community around joy for positive change. Learning the stories about these two amazing, courageous, joyful Black women can be a way to mobilize for good. These are things we can all rally around as human beings, connecting and mobilizing around joy, and hopefully using joy as a motivator for social change. So that’s what we’re trying to do in our humble way. We really tried to pare it down to again those core basics, presenting positive Black role models and stories of people like the two Bessies. And just really thinking: How did they find joy? How did they overcome all this negativity? Because when we learn how they did it, maybe we can learn how we can do it. We don’t have to fly planes or drive motorcycles, but there are other things we can do to overcome these feelings of being overwhelmed. These women grew up during Jim Crow. And look at what they did. They can be brave and overcome negativity. So can we,” said Clemmons. 

Clemmons Family Farm is seeking partners in Vermont’s airplane industry to help share news of the curriculum and to provide locations for the filming of parts of the “Vroom!” music video. Airplane industry representatives are encouraged to reach out to Clemmons Family Farm to discuss opportunities to collaborate on the project.