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The captain of the Umoja Step Team popped into my classroom as she is apt to do at least two times a day. As she was leaving, she patted the advertisement posted on my classroom door for the upcoming Black History Celebration, hosted by the team.
Turning towards me, she stated: "A girl in my class said: 'Why do they need a whole month?'"
I replied with much restraint, "How did you respond?"
"I didn't say anything," came the senior captain's refrain. "It wasn't worth it."
Why did this exchange (or lack thereof) occur in a suburban high school north of Syracuse, NY in the year 2018? Why does the questioning for the need for Black History persist? Is it ignorance? Is it youth? Is it prejudice? Is it systemic racism? Is it all of the above?Why does the questioning for the need for Black History persist? Click To Tweet
In 1926, Black History began as a week. Is a week enough? Is a week too much? Is the shortest month of year too long? So, why do they need a whole month? Although February only includes 28 days (29 at most), the following are 31 reasons why a month-long recognition is not enough:
- A rich, diverse African narrative
- The Moors
- 350 years of Forced Labor
- ⅗th of a person.
- Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable
- Plessy v. Ferguson
- Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth
- 40 Acres and a Mule
- Matthew Henson
- Jim Crow
- The Harlem Renaissance
- Rosa Park's birthday month (February 4, 1913)
- Tuskegee Airmen of World War Two
- Rock n Roll, Country Music, Jazz, Blues, R & B, Rap, Dance
- Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, 1954
- The Little Rock 9
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., U.S. Congressman John Louis
- Dr. Dorothy Height
- Malcolm X
- Maya Angelou
- Dr. Huey P. Newton
- Assata Shakur
- Muhammad Ali
- Oprah Winfrey, Carol Mosley Braun, Kamala Harris,
- Trayvon Martin
- President Barack Obama
- Black Lives Matter
- Ferguson, Missouri
- "I can't breathe."
- Charlottesville, VA
Thirty-one reasons, but I could offer more. The humanities curriculum is white. White and male is the paradigm. Sure, I mention in my teaching names like Mansa Musa, Jomo Kenyatta, and Nelson Mandela, but is that is adequate coverage of the history of an entire continent--a place where some of my students are descendants?
If you are an educator, ask yourself if you recognize the significance of all thirty-one reasons? If you don't know one of the above-listed ideas, just click it. Don't be afraid. I would never have this list if I had not volunteered to be the advisor of the Step Team this year. As soon as I learned that the organization of Black History month was my role, I searched the internet. I stumbled across www.urbanintellectuals.com and their Black History Flashcards.A few members of the Step Team saw the cards and got excited. They were hungry to see a mirror. My students are eager to view reflections of themselves by studying significant people in African-American history.
I am a history teacher, and I did not fully comprehend the need for Black History Month until January of 2018, during the team's planning meeting. When I surveyed students on the Step Team as to why the school should have a Black History Celebration, they brainstormed reasons, creating a theme for this year: "Pride in Our Roots." And, they mean our. Not theirs. Not they. The students on the Step Team are inclusive of all, but they are mostly brown and black. They are beautiful, passionate, hard-working performers who care about their teammates and their school. Those students are my thirty-second reason for celebrating Black History Month. They deserve representation of their ancestors' history. They need to recognize that the definition of equality is when Black stories are ubiquitous as Caucasian.
If you are still not convinced as to the need for Black History, watch this MTV video that addresses the issue with more flair, here.