Essex Heritage hosted a free symposium on Saturday, March 25 at Salem State University. Local educators, historians, scholars, and students helped us explore the history of African American activism in Essex County, MA.

How can primary sources from the region’s past and contemporary voices in the local Black community inform our understanding of how to approach this topic?  How are local museums, educators, and cultural institutions exploring these stories? We considered these and other questions via scholarly presentations, topic-specific break-out sessions, critical discussions, and facilitated activities.

This event was meant to extend the impact of a recently published guide compiled by Dr. Liz Duclos-Orsello (Salem State University) and Dr. Kabria Baumgartner (Northeastern University) called “African Americans in Essex County: An Annotated Guide.”

PDPs are available for educators. To receive your PDP, please fill out THIS FORM after the event.

View the full agenda.

List of this symposium’s speakers and contributors with their biographies.

Welcome and Introduction

Introductory remarks by Beth Beringer and Cheri Grishin, Essex Heritage; and Dr. Nate Bryant, Salem State University

Break Out Session: Hands on History of Local Black Changemakers

Essex County has a rich history of black activism, dating back as far as the 1700s and continuing through recent events in the 1960s. These primary sources offer valuable insights into this significant history of the black experience. Local historians guided groups through these documents providing invaluable insights on the local histories of black stories in Essex County.


Ed Bell, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, Massachusetts Historical

Jeanne Pickering, Historian, 

Lucy Keller, Museum Educator, Historic Beverly

Nora Halloran, Park Ranger, Salem Maritime National Historic Site 

Doneeca Thurston, Director, Lynn Museum and Historical Society 

Lauren McCormack, Executive Director, Marblehead Museum 

Louis Meyi, Representative, Marblehead Racial Justice Team 

Zobeida Chaffee-Valdes, Graduate Student, Northeastern University

Symposium Agenda for Hands On History

Plenary Sessions

Connections to Contemporary Local Black Activism: Navigating Difficult Discussions

Watch Dr. Keenan McKenzie, President of the North Shore NAACP, and three dynamic women who are deeply committed to community engagement, as they lead a session on navigating challenging conversations about race, social justice, and equity.

Listen as each panelist shares their personal story and provides invaluable insights on navigating these sensitive discussions. Engage with our esteemed panelists as they engage in an insightful discussion moderated by Dr. McKenzie. Together, they will explore thought-provoking questions, such as:

  • What distinguishes inclusion from belonging in the context of race, social justice, and equity?
  • What crucial role does allyship play in community organizing efforts?
  • How can we strive to be more than just allies, but also co-conspirators, in actively challenging systemic injustices?


Dr. Kenann McKenzie, North Shore NAACP president


Toni Waldron, Educator, Royal House and Slave Quarters

Kat Everett, Founder, COCO Brown 

Nicole McClain, Founder, North Shore Juneteenth Association 

Youth Panel

Our Youth Panel comprises young people from various communities in the North Shore who are actively engaged in uplifting marginalized voices and shedding light on pertinent issues. These young achievers are making a notable impact within their schools and communities, working towards a more inclusive and diverse world.

The panelists will share their individual stories of community involvement, ranging from establishing organizations to advocating for systemic changes. Through their insights, the Youth Panel will shed light on the following:

  • The systemic racist issues that young people face and how they are addressing them.
  • The ways in which youth are organizing around these issues and the power of coalition building.
  • How we can ensure that the voices of youth in our communities are heard and that their concerns are addressed through collaborative efforts.

Learn from these passionate young change-makers, gaining valuable perspectives on the challenges they face and the actions they are taking to create positive change in their communities.


Dr. Nate Bryant, Salem State University


Michael Corley, Student Body President, Salem State University 

Elsa Mersha, Co-President, Masconomet Regional High School ACE Club

Vanessa Basame, Co-President, Masconomet Regional High School ACE Club

Jada Exama, Founder, Youth Peace Movement, Essex Tech 

Camilla Wilkins- Bowens, Founder, Youth Peace Movement, Gloucester High School 

Zhane Burton, recent graduate, Salem State University; social studies teacher, Boston Public Schools

Breakout Sessions

Model Programs in Museum Settings

Local historians as they demonstrate how they have brought to the forefront the significance of Black activism and change-makers within their respective museum environments. Today’s museums are grappling with how to leverage public history as a catalyst for change in the public sphere.

By reflecting on past practices and showcasing the innovative approaches of our local museum exemplars in highlighting Black activism and change-makers, these historians will shed light on exemplary programming for museum settings in 2023. Our museum exemplars will work through the following questions:

  1. How have local historians incorporated Black activism and change-makers in their museum settings?
  2. What are some examples of innovative approaches used by museums to showcase Black activism and change-makers?
  3. How can museums utilize public history as a tool for promoting social change in the public sphere?


Dr. Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, Salem State University


Dr. Kabria Baumgartner, Northeastern University

Dan Lipcan, Peabody Essex Museum 

Doneeca Thurston, Lynn Museum/Lynn Arts

Nora Halloran, Salem Maritime and Saugus Iron Works National Historic Sites

Model Programming in Classroom Settings

Watch local educators, teachers, and school officials as they conduct breakout sessions on their incorporation of primary sources from local archives that highlight Black activism and change-makers into K-12 lesson plans and activities. These sessions are designed for teachers seeking to explore innovative ways of integrating Black history into their curricula.

This session is an opportunity for educators to learn from each other and share best practices in teaching Black history. Participants will leave with new ideas and resources that they can use to enhance their lesson plans and better engage their students in discussions of Black activism and changemakers. The goal is to provide educators with the tools they need to create inclusive classrooms that celebrate diversity and promote understanding of different cultures and perspectives. They will guide through the following:

  1. How do educators use primary sources from local archives to teach Black history in their classrooms?
  2. What are some examples of lesson plans and activities that incorporate Black activism and changemakers in K-12 curricula?
  3. How can teachers integrate Black history into their curricula in a way that is both engaging and educational for students?


Dr. Brad Austin, Salem State University

Dr. Bethany Jay, Salem State University


Brian Sheehy, North Andover Public Schools

Casey Silot, Lynn Public Schools

Zhane Burton, Boston Public Schools 

Classroom Exemplars, Panel Questions
Classroom Exemplars, presentation by Brian Sheehy

Comments from Senator Joan Lovely

Learn More

After the formal portion of the event, attendees joined Dan Lipcan, Ann C. Pingree Director of PEM’s Phillips Library, for a tour of the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibition “Let None Be Excluded“.

To explore materials from past workshops offered by Essex National Heritage Area that explore Essex County’s rich and diverse history, please visit our Teaching Hidden Histories pages.

This project is funded by an African American Civil Rights Grant through the National Park Service. This material was produced with assistance from the Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior under Grant Number [P21AP11739-00]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.