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Black History Month: Purpose and Progress

Personally, "Black History Month" represents a time of pride and privilege. A time of gratitude and solidarity. It is the month when my dominate identity markers (black American, female, educator) converge in the celebration of my ancestors.  As the month comes to an end, there are a few salient thoughts about celebrating the progress and struggle of Black Americans both past and present that I want to discuss (or rant about). 
In my K-12 education I remember being taught that “slaves” were brought to the Americas. I wish one of my teachers would have adopted the notion, “slaves weren’t brought to the Americas, people were.” This perspective humanizes Africans, and validates the lives of those who were wrongfully thrown into a vicious cycle of oppression and abuse. During "Black History Month" my teachers also shared the phenomenal stories of the same people (e.g. MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman) year after year. While the accomplishments of these great individuals is certainly worthy of recognition, in college I challenged myself to two things. One, to remember and celebrate the history of AFRICA before European colonization, and two, to integrate the history of African Americans, and other cultures throughout the year in my curriculum! The latter is a work in progress. While the debate on the pros/cons of having “Black History Month” rages on, I am convicted by a need to see cultures embedded into the curriculum and not isolated to a month, week, or day. I can’t think of a single American history event that doesn’t in some way intersect with a different race or culture.  I have gone back and forth about celebrating Black History Month. I get the argument that it is needed, but I can't ignore the fact that to me it seems more of a "do and show" versus a "learn and grow."
In 2012, I had the privilege of meeting John Lewis while attending the Congressional Black Caucus with Teach For America. I was completely baffled by the fact that some people didn’t know who he was(I’m sure that has changed based on the acclaim of the movie Selma). Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about this legend in school, but on my own. That’s a shame because he’s a LIVING LEGEND! A PIONEER! Really. 

 Another reflection I have is about the full story of the Civil Rights Movement. There were some pivotal moments (e.g. Emmett Till’s murder, MLK Speech, Montgomery Bus boycott), but there were also stories and events that sometimes get lost in the shuffle. In particular, I long for a curriculum that delves into the collaborative efforts between blacks and their white allies,  or the dissension within the African American community on the direction of the movement, or the role of politics in the  fight for equality. The good news is that I believe that push for multiple perspectives with the CCSS is moving us closer to such conversations. 
There is movement towards justice being led by the next generation of leaders. While teachers SHOULD NOT, I repeat SHOULD NOT place their personal beliefs in the curriculum, they could use current events to analyze, compare, and contrast the past with the present. I spoke about my thoughts on social justice in this post last month, and I am following up with information I learned after visiting St. Louis and participating in a series of lessons facilitated by those engaged in THE WORK. I observed classrooms where students were discussing their role in leading change (here and here). These lessons were facilitated by novice teachers and I was blown away by student investment and responses! I also participate in a session entitled, "#Blacklivesmatter & Ferguson is Everywhere: A Case Study in How We Can Organize and Take Action." It was led by my fellow Teach For America colleague Brittany Packnett, along with activists Johnetta Elzie, DeRay McKesson, and Kayla Reed. Whoever presented the narrative that mission in Ferguson has no leadership is sadly misinformed. I was humbled and inspired by what these activists are doing and why they are doing it. 


I write all of this to say, 
the history of this country is complicated and incomplete
its not black and white
it's been a long and winding road full of triumphs and disappointments 
In the words of my favorite poet Dr. Maya Angelou, "No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place."

Remember, Black history is American and World history.  I aspire to promote a culturally diverse curriculum that provides a historical perspective that enhances the cultural and racial identity of students 365 days a year. 

NOTE: I have a culturally responsive teaching board on Pinterest and I am looking for pinners! If interested, follow the board and leave your Pinterest information below. 

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