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MHS performing story of Muhammad Ali for Black History Month

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

Marion High School students will be using the stage to tell the story of how Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali in a play to honor Black History Month.

The Black History Club began in 1980 with MHS teacher Bobbie Owensby. She said the club began with five or six students who were interested in African American history. Since its beginning, different student groups have traveled to as far as Brazil and Africa to have new cultural experiences.

“For many of these students, it’s their first time traveling outside of Grant County, and we do it for them to see another way of life,” Owensby said.

Now the group focuses on traveling to historically black colleges and universities in the United States, which is made possible by the money raised from their annual play.

This year, students will perform “And in This Corner: Cassius Clay,” which focuses on Ali’s early days in boxing and his many battles living in Jim Crow-era Louisville, Kentucky.

Owensby said the cast of around 75 students range from second grade to seniors at Marion High School.

Manual Davis, a senior at MHS, is playing the neighborhood bully Corky Baker, and he has been part of the Black History Club since his freshman year. Davis said the money raised from previous plays have allowed him to tour college campuses with the club, which has helped him decide to go to Central State University in Ohio to become a lawyer.

He said being part of the play and Black History Club have opened his eyes to the importance of remembering history.

“It’s taught me to be proud of our roots. I’ve learned that a lot of African American people, and more women than I thought, fought for change,” Davis said. “It’s helped me be grateful for the doors their efforts have opened for me.”

Brett Cope plays as Joe Martin, Clay’s trainer. Cope said he thinks the performance will tell a lesser-known story of Ali’s beginnings.

“I don’t think people realize everything he was up against,” Cope said.

Amonte King, another senior at MHS, said he’s excited to portray Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the play, even if it’s only for a brief scene. He added how much being part of the play has taught him about why Black History Month is celebrated.

“Back then, just because you were talented didn’t mean you could do whatever you wanted to do -- especially if you were black,” King said. “It didn’t matter how good you were, you had to work harder... I’ll be honest, it’s always been hard for me to understand what it was like and why it’s such a big deal to have this, and why it’s such a big deal for there to be a Black History Month, but looking at this play and seeing the way everyone is involved gives you a different perspective on what it was really like to be black and what it was like to be black and make something of yourself.”

The show premiers on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. inside the MHS auditorium. All tickets are $7 and can be purchased from any member of the Black History Club.

They will also be sold at the door the night of the play.