Delving into her ancestry, Syairah Sims was fascinated to learn about Makeda — often referred to as the Queen of Sheba — who was known for her power, beauty and wealth.
"I found out all new information about her," said Sims, president of the Black Student Union at Reynolds High School.
That information included a status level Sims wouldn't have imagined based on what she'd read earlier.
"It's really cool to research things you never read in the history books," she said. "It is cool to know that my ancestry didn't originate in slavery. They were kings and queens."
Sims featured Makeda as part of the Black History "museum" she researched for display at the Troutdale Library, 2451 S.W. Cherry Park Road. Created by members of the Black Student Union at Reynolds High, the display is one of a half-dozen such exhibits at Multnomah County libraries to honor Black History Month.
"One of the library's pillars is to be a champion for equity and inclusion," said June Bass, program manager for programming and community outreach at Multnomah County Library. "This partnership with the Black Student Unions is an example of that."
This is the second year the library system has worked with students to create the "museums" for Black History Month, as February has been designated since 1970.
The Troutdale Library surrounded the Reynolds BSU exhibit with displays of books about black history and culture. Patrons can grab a book on the legend of the African warrior Shaka or on Nubia, home to some of Africa's most ancient kingdoms, or on the popular "Black Panther" comic book series.
The Multnomah County Library partners with Portland's World Stage Theatre to produce the displays.
The World Stage Theatre "asked us if we wanted to participate. They sent us a list of categories and topics that we could chose from," Sims said. "We (the Reynolds BSU) discussed it and had a vote. We came up with African Royalty and Empires."
But the timing was difficult for BSU club members and the deadline for submission was drawing near, so Sims just dug in and did the investigation herself.
"It's really valuable to take the time and research something they would not teach in school. It's really beneficial. It really opens your eyes," she said.
The Reynolds BSU participated in the project last year, researching The Harlem Renaissance. Centered in the famous New York City neighborhood from about 1918 to the mid-1930s, the renaissance was a particularly rich time of creativity. There were stunning accomplishments in music, art, literature, fashion, philosophy and more by black artists and thinkers.
After Sims crafted and handed over her research on African Royalty and Empires to World Stage, the group formatted the information and put it on the display.
"I'm very happy with how it turned out," Sims said.
Sims did not have to go far to deliver the materials for the museum display. Her mother, Shalanda Sims, is the founder and executive director of World Stage.
A junior, Syairah Sims has been involved in the BSU since she was a freshman.
Sims said the Reynolds BSU has about 15 regular members, but others participate on and off. The group holds discussions, takes field trips and participates in other activities.
"It's mostly discussion-based," Sims said.
"The BSU is a way of bringing black students together in a way we don't often see each other. It's such a big school," she explained.
The library's Bass said, "we hope this brings a great sense of pride to the students to have their work in such a public display."
Sims hopes visitors to the Troutdale Library will learn from and enjoy the exhibit on black history.
"Putting it in a public space gives access to information that people are missing," she said. "I hope people can say, 'Wow, I didn't know about that.'"
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