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Black History Month 2021

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black history table
Wesleyan School installed a “Periodic Table of Black History” graphic at school.

Black History Month takes on special significance this year.

It comes just after Kamala Harris was sworn in as the nation’s vice president, becoming the first female, first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to hold the position.

The annual celebration also comes in the wake of last year’s global Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice and the passing in July of civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many of the Black History Month observances typically held in and around Peachtree Corners, sending them into the virtual world or cancelling them all together.

But the celebration will go on at many area schools, including Wesleyan School.

“At Wesleyan, we are seeking to engage in parts of history that are often forgotten, but that were pivotal in creating a better future for current generations,” said Dr. Jennifer Pinkett Smith, the school’s director of diversity. “Students and teachers learn about history that shows the resilience and courage of African Americans who often sacrificed their own safety and lives for equality.”

Here’s a sampling of Black History Month activities planned at schools and elsewhere in the Peachtree Corners area.

Private Schools

Greater Atlanta Christian School

Celebrating Black History Month has been an annual tradition at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC), said Charles Edwards, the school’s director of diversity and inclusion.

A dance group performs a hip hop routine at Greater Atlanta Christian School’s Black History Month Chapel in February 2020. From left, Adalia Thomas, Kennedi Milton, Taylor McIntosh, Abagale Payne, Kate Gary, Camryn Marion, Bridget Salter, Taylor Spotts, Zoe Jones, Sasha Niles and Lily Boehm.

“The year 2021 provides an even broader opportunity to share valuable contributions and struggles through historical people and events, alongside today’s headlines,” Edwards said. “America is a land of complicated history and delving into the ‘whys’ with students creates conversations leading to better understanding, respect and appreciation for the diversity we embrace.”

From left, Milani Anderson and Denver Tolson sing a medley of spirituals at Greater Atlanta Christian School’s Black History Month Chapel in February 2020.

Plans now underway include spotlights on Black heroes during the elementary students’ Spartan News Live program, shown in classrooms three days a week. Similar spotlights are in place for Middle and High School with a culminating, schoolwide Black History Month chapel program which will be held in-person and virtually on February 26. The annual program for grades K-12 typically includes music, dance and videos created and presented by GAC students and readings offered by students and a notable guest speaker.

Wesleyan School

Lower School students at Wesleyan School will journey through Black history with the book, “28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World.” Each day they will learn about contributions and the fight for equality that continues today.

Middle school students will journey back to the 1930s and learn about the use of “The Green Book,” a travel guide used by Black people to live and travel safely in America. Students will also learn about visionaries who continue the fight for equality.

High school students will view the Teaching Tolerance lesson “What Counts as History” and discuss how to keep the conversation about black history as a part of everyday history.

Public Schools

The following was compiled from information provided by the Gwinnett County Public School system and individual schools.

Coleman Middle School — Mini-lessons about black history will be made during morning announcements. Project-based lessons ask questions such as “How can we amplify the underrepresented voices of history?” and “How can we develop a character that influences social justice?”

Summerour Middle School — The school plans an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Door Decorating Contest, art displays, essay contest, Black author highlights in the media center and a celebration at the end of the month with student performances.

Duluth High School — The Social Studies Department will record a presentation of student performances that will be shared in classes. Students will also produce daily short videos of alumni, staff and students discussing historical figures, present influencers and their own experiences.

Duluth Middle School — A tribute to HBCU/Greek organizations includes school staffers sharing history and their experiences. Drama students will perform two virtual plays, “Kwanzaa Heroes” and “Freedom Riders.” Students will learn about several historical figures through a “virtual wax museum” and will hear Black History Month facts during daily announcements.

Norcross High School — Individuals who have made significant contributions in science, math, literature, history and other areas will be recognized throughout the month. Videos and sources for additional information will be shared.

Peachtree Elementary School — Historic and impactful Black people will be commemorated during daily morning newscasts and highlighted in ongoing lessons.

Pinckneyville Middle School — The observance will include inspirational videos during morning announcements, student book talks and a virtual museum field trip to one of the museums that offer them such as The Center for Civil and Human Rights and The National Museum of African History and Culture. The school’s annual Black History Month celebration takes place virtually on Feb. 21, featuring student performances and guest speakers.

Paul Duke Stem High School — Social Studies teachers and the Black Student Association plan daily messages highlighting “important and innovative Black leaders” and Black History will be highlighted daily in history classes. Video broadcasting students will create a special video with guest speakers that will be their major project for February. Black History and Culture spirit week takes place February 15-19 with themed dress-up days for faculty and students including Red, Black and Green Day (unity); College Day/HBCUs; Camouflage Day (in recognition of military contributions); Cowboy Day (in recognition of Black cowboys); and Black is Beautiful (wear all black in celebration of Black people).

Simpson Elementary School — The school plans to conduct a series of interactive discussions on Zoom for fourth and fifth graders with speakers from the journalism, legal, government and medical fields who will speak on the history of Black people in their professions.

Stripling Elementary School — The tentative plan for a schoolwide Book Museum includes each class selecting a book and discussing its main character. Students will create a display to post in the hallway and a classroom Google Slide to inform and inspire others. The slides will be compiled and placed on the school’s website.

Community Celebrations

Gwinnett County Public Library — The Grayson branch will offer a program for schools and the public on “The History of African American Voting and Civil Rights, 1865-Present.” The Norcross branch plans virtual programs on February 7, 14 and 21 on how to create your own art piece inspired by a contemporary Black artist’s work using tools and materials you probably have around the house.

The Suwanee and Centerville branches are partnering to do a three-part virtual series on HBCUs, including a program on the history and future impact of HBCUs on March 11 at 9 a.m., a panel discussion with HBCU alumni on March 18 at 6:30 p.m., and an HBCU admissions talk — “What Every Teen Needs to Know” — on March 25 at 6:30 p.m. For more details and links to these programs, visit the library system’s social media accounts or gwinnettpl.libnet.info/events.

United Ebony Society of Gwinnett County — The United Ebony Society actively works to educate, engage and promote community involvement emphasizing the diversity of Gwinnett County.

The organization’s annual display and program at the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center will not be held due to the pandemic. Instead, the United Ebony Society is partnering with Gwinnett County Community Outreach and other organizations to host virtual presentations and a service project. Students will be involved in this event.

Topics will include “African American History in Gwinnett County, historical sites, genealogy, and African American pacesetters throughout the African Diaspora.” Details are being finalized and will be available on unitedebonysociety.org and Facebook.

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Rooted Interiors Unveils Largest Transformation Project Yet for a Family in Need

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Grandfather's bedroom before and after // photos courtesy of Rooted Interiors

Rooted Interiors, a new non-profit organization dedicated to transforming lives through design, has announced the completion of its largest transformation project to date.

With a commitment to providing complete interiors to individuals and families emerging from homelessness, Rooted Interiors continues to make a profound impact on communities, one home at a time.

The latest project marks a significant milestone for Rooted Interiors as it demonstrates the organization’s unwavering dedication to creating havens where families can plant roots and thrive.

Through meticulous planning, collaboration and the support of generous donors and volunteers, Rooted Interiors has successfully transformed a once hopeless space into a warm and welcoming home for a deserving family.

At the heart of this project is a single mother, accompanied by her two children and her father, who found themselves in dire circumstances after the mother fled from an abusive partner, forcing them to seek refuge at the Family Promise shelter in Athens, Ga.

Upon securing a new home, however, their relief was short-lived as they found themselves in a space devoid of warmth and lacking the essentials of a home.

With no furniture besides a dining room table, no washer and dryer and a malfunctioning fridge, their daily struggles persisted for three long months.

But Rooted Interiors didn’t just redesign the family’s space, they filled it with love and hope.

Through this project, the organization transformed the family’s house into a sanctuary, addressing not only their physical needs but also their emotional well-being. From carefully selected furniture to thoughtful décor choices, every detail was curated to create a space that felt like home.

“We are thrilled to unveil our latest project, which represents our continued commitment to serving those in need,” said Kristina McCalla, Founder and Executive Director of Rooted Interiors.

“Our Rooted in Renewal Program not only revitalizes physical spaces but also renews hope and stability for the family who calls this house their home,” she added.

Rooted Interiors offers a lifeline to families in need, empowering them to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence.

“This journey is not just about creating aesthetically pleasing interiors; it’s about using the language of design to uplift and restore,” said Kristina McCalla, also Lead Interior Designer at Rooted Interiors.

“Rooted in faith and love, each project is a testament to the belief that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a place that reflects their humanity and worth. By providing a thoughtfully designed and fully furnished home, we aim to empower families to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence,” she explained.

As Rooted Interiors continues its mission to fully furnish homes for those emerging from homelessness, this project serves as a testament to the organization’s impact and the generosity of its supporters.

Through ongoing partnerships and community engagement, the organization remains committed to building brighter futures for individuals and families in need. For more information about Rooted Interiors and how you can support their mission, visit rootedinteriors.org.

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BRACK: Peachtree Corners to lose Peterbrooke Chocolatier

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Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson.
Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson. Photo provided.

Peachtree Corners will soon lose one of its most iconic, popular and tasty businesses.

Peterbrooke Chocolatier, run by Geoffrey Wilson and Scott Gottuso, has been told by Peachtree Forum landlords, North American Properties and Nuveen Real Estate, that its lease will not be renewed. The last day of business will be July 25.

Meanwhile, Peachtree Forum is getting several new stores. They include Kendra Scott, Sucre, and The NOW Massage. Previously announced were Alloy Personal Training, Cookie Fix, Gallery Anderson Smith, Giulia, Lovesac, Nando’s Peri-Peri and Stretchlab. Wilson adds: “We are not in their big picture.”

Wilson has operated Peterbrooke at the Peachtree Forum for 14 years and Gottuso has been there nine years. They have made the chocolatier profitable and doubled sales. Wilson says: “We turned it around through community involvement and made relationships. We worked with the schools, gave donations, did a lot in the community, and made a difference. We produce most everything we sell in the shop, so it’s labor intensive. We make European-style chocolate treats from scratch from the very best ingredients, package it, make gift baskets, and also sell a lot of gelato.”

Key items include truffles, hand-made caramels, cherry cordials, chocolate-covered cookies and pretzels and strawberries hand-dipped in their own blend of chocolates. (They are all good!) One of Wilson’s and Gottuso’s most iconic products is chocolate popcorn. Once you try it, regular popcorn is tasteless. “We sell a lot of it.” Wilson adds: “Gelato sales have carried us in the summertime, since there are not many chocolate holidays in the summer.”

Peterbrooke now has five employees, and would like to have 10, but it is difficult to hire people with the skills in chocolatiering. A key part of its business is corporate companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Capital Insight. The Peachtree Corners’ Peterbrooke has corporate customers as far away as Cleveland, Ohio.

The operators were surprised when the Forum owners did not renew its five year lease. “The big decisions were made in Charlotte or Cincinnati, not locally,” Wilson feels. “We were no longer in their big picture. They want new and glitzy, shiny, fancy and trendy.”

The operators plan to start their own chocolate company, to be called “Scoffrey,” and initially sell online, plus have pop-up locations during holidays, and possibly have a booth in other merchants’ stores on occasions.

“Whatever we do would look different. We might rent a space somewhere close by so that people can still have the good chocolate experience with us, but we won’t have a regular audience walking by.”

Another element: the price of chocolate futures has spiked this year, with a bad crop production year. Wilson says: “That is key to our business and a huge cost increase. That doesn’t help.”

Wilson adds that the forced closing of the Peterbrooke location “is something like the death of a friend. But you go to the funeral and to the wake, and in six months or a year, It won’t be so bad.”

Have a comment?  Send to: elliott@elliottbrack

Written by Elliott Brack

This material is presented with permission from Elliott Brack’s GwinnettForum, an online site published Tuesdays and Fridays. To become better informed about Gwinnett, subscribe (at no cost) at GwinnettForum

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The Transformative Trail: Dr. Sunit Singhal’s Journey to Wellness

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The highest peak in Tanzania also known as the “roof of Africa" // Photos courtesy of Dr. Sunit Singhal

For more than two decades, Dr. Sunit Singhal has been a member of the Peachtree Corners community. In February 2001, he opened Suburban Medical Center, making a significant contribution to community healthcare. Under his leadership, the medical center has expanded, notably by introducing Suburban Med Spa next door.

A 1988 graduate of the University College of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, Dr. Singhal furthered his expertise in the United States, completing his residency in Internal Medicine at Harlem Hospital Center in New York.

An awakening at the Grand Canyon

A few years ago, the 60-year-old physician had an eye-opening moment about his own health. Most of his life was spent being overweight, which he accepted and managed the best he could.

“It’s not a secret that I was overweight. Anyone could see it; it’s how I was my whole life,” said Dr. Singhal.

The pivotal moment for Dr. Singhal was his attempt to join friends on a hike at the Grand Canyon a few years back. Despite his determination, Dr. Singhal was unprepared for the hike’s demands.

“I thought, okay, I will meet my friends one-third of the way down the canyon from the opposite end. That way, I can keep up with them towards the end of the hike,” he shared.

The trek up Mount Kilimanjaro

Even starting much later, Dr. Singhal struggled greatly with the hike. He experienced knee pain, breathlessness, and exhaustion. His struggle not only slowed him down but also his friends, who had been hiking for an additional 12 hours before he joined them.

The ordeal ended in the middle of a cold night, leading to a physically taxing recovery period that left Dr. Singhal sore for days.

Despite the arduous experience at the Grand Canyon, Dr. Singhal didn’t retire his hiking boots. Feeling motivated to conquer the obstacle, he began walking long miles with friends to get into shape.

A few months later, the call of the canyon echoed again, and friends proposed a new challenge: hiking from the South Rim to the river and back. While less daunting than their previous endeavor, the task was intimidating.

“This time, I was able to make the hike without holding anyone back,” he shared. Dr. Singhal already saw the difference his efforts were making.

His triumphs over physical and mental barriers were clear and exciting. Dr. Singhal’s return to the canyon increased his resilience and personal growth.

Conquering Kilimanjaro: a test of determination

Following a series of hikes through the Grand Canyon as his health improved, Dr. Singhal and his hiking group set their sights on Mount Kilimanjaro. They regularly engaged in 10-mile hikes each week to prepare for the trek.

(left to right) Singhal, Kashish, Vani and Mahender Gupta.

“It was never on our minds to simply skip or cut the hike short because we didn’t feel like it that day,” Dr. Singhal said. Even family members occasionally joined, keeping pace with the senior group with varying success.

When the time arrived for their Kilimanjaro quest, they needed to identify the number of days their group would need to complete it.

“There are different levels you can choose for hikes. If you are very athletic, the 5-day hike is for you. It goes all the way up to 9 days if you need to go slowly,” Dr. Singhal explained.

The friends chose the six-day option. It seemed like a good balance of their confidence in their fitness coupled with a conservative approach. Yet, they completed the ascent in five days.

“We couldn’t believe we finished at such a quick pace. We weren’t straining ourselves to do it. It was the natural pace we wanted to go, and we finished with the group we viewed as the most fit and athletic.”

Mount Everest on the horizon

The hiking group isn’t resting on their laurels, though. The crew continues to meet and train for their next goal, climbing Mount Everest.

“There’s a lottery to be accepted to climb. We entered and are hoping to be selected for a hike this fall,” Dr. Singhal shared. When asked if he felt intimidated about this potential hike, he confidently replied, “No, not really.”

The team of friends will hear this summer if they are selected to climb.

Health and hope

Dr. Singhal’s health journey is the perfect example of the potential for change at any stage of life. It also highlights the importance of self-care, perseverance and pursuing one’s goals, regardless of the starting point.

His patients can rest easily. He isn’t walking away from his practice for the mountains full-time. Dr. Singhal is committed to his practice and patients. He firmly believes and displays that personal improvement and professional dedication can coexist harmoniously.

“I want my patients to know that I am equally dedicated to being here for them and their own health journeys.” When he’s not hitting the trails, Dr. Singhal can be found spending time with his family in Duluth or at his practice in Peachtree Corners.

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