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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2012

Hyman teaches African-American history through his plays

ALBANY COUNTY — According to Donald Hyman, black history is American history.

Hyman, a social studies teacher, dedicates his time to teaching all members of the community about African-American history.

Though social studies was his favorite subject in school, it wasn’t until he was teaching the subject that he realized his passion for African-American history.

He was teaching middle school in Queens, and for Black History Month he put together a bulletin board of important historical figures.

“I had this huge basket overflowing with pictures and information, and I thought to myself, ‘Am I really only supposed to teach about this for one month out of the year?’” said Hyman.

Every event in American history involved African Americans in some way, he said. A lot of the students he was teaching were black or of Caribbean descent, and were fascinated to learn about the historical figures they had never heard of before.

A favorite story of Hyman is the one of Meriwether Lewis and William Clarks’ journey to the Pacific Ocean. He focuses on Clark’s little known servant, York, was the only African American to be part of the expedition. The Native Americans treated York with respect because of his appearance, and he played a key role in “diplomatic relations,” Hyman said.

Hyman is familiar with all different kinds of African-American histories and cultures. He has a master’s degree in urban studies, and has traveled to Haiti, Guadalupe, the Dominican Republic, and the West Indies, where he experienced the different foods and rituals.

Hyman used to live in New York City; he was born and raised in Brooklyn, and got his degrees from Long Island University, but, he said, as he got older, he craved a quiet and peaceful lifestyle.

He moved to Albany and teaches in one of the city schools, as well as teaching courses at The College of Saint Rose and Hudson Valley Community College.

Hyman has gotten very involved with community theater in Albany County, and has formulated ways to teach African-American history through poetry, music, and plays, nurturing his creativity.

“I get a creative surge and things come to me; I have to wake up in the middle of the night and write stuff down because it’s going through my head,” said Hyman.

He says his inspiration stems from seeing the Motown Revue when he was 9, and realizing how influential and important it was to so many people.

Most recently, he wrote and presented Zoratellers, the story of Zora Neale Hurston’s life, at Saint Rose. Hurston is considered one of the pre-eminent writers of African-American literature, and she is closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Hyman wrote a script detailing the story of Hurston’s life, and had a number of different women present it to the audience.

He will be doing a presentation on the writers of the Harlem Renaissance at Hudson Valley Community College this month.

On Friday, he debuted his own acting company, The Ira Aldridge Theater Ensemble, at HVCC. The company will feature African -American history through poetry and literature. Ira Aldridge was the first African American to achieve stardom in the theater.

“I love community theater because you just get to work with regular people,” Hyman said.

It isn’t just big theater audiences that Hyman loves teaching and entertaining. He performs at the Veterans Hospital and for senior groups, including the Altamont Seniors.

“I have never been treated as nicely and warmly as I have in Altamont — they act like I’m Frank Sinatra or something!” said Hyman.

“People tend to learn what gets thrown at them in school,” Hyman concluded. “They don’t want to pick up a book unless they have to, but I can teach through theater.”

— By Anne Hayden

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