Black History Month is Here!
Black History Month is one of my favorite times of the year! It just is! I learn so much about my history and my culture- each year there is something new. It is such an amazing feeling!
As a student, I don’t know that I always had that feeling about Black History Month. I don’t know… On a personal level, yes. From the perspective of my school experiences, I don’t have many memorable experiences.
The only “school-generated” experience that I can recall was dressing up as Phyllis Wheatley, Poet, in Mrs. Rish’s Fourth Grade class. I can’t recall whether or not this was specifically for Black History Month, but dressing up as a significant person in Black History had a lasting impact on me. Phyllis Wheatley wasn’t well known and there was only one picture of her available, but I was really proud to represent her.
Representation is Key
As you know, I am a big proponent of how representation matters. I can tell you firsthand how important this is and how being able to see yourself represented positively can bring about so many special benefits to your mental, social, emotional, and economic well-being. Take a moment to think about the last commercial, movie, television program, book, you name it that you saw yourself represented in. What impact did that have on you? Did it put a smile on your face or a little pep in your step? It feels really good!
Okay, I could go on all day about representation and about being culturally responsive. I really could. I’ve had this strong, unshakable inkling to write this post. It stems from my belief in the importance of diversity, representation, and inclusion.
Why Did You Decorate Your Door for “Valentine’s Day”?
Well, what do you think of teachers that willingly decorate their classroom doors or hallways for Valentine’s Day in lieu of the culture, tradition, and history of Black and African people during the month of February? My thoughts?
It is really like a punch to the gut when you walk down the hallways and see the lack of participation from your colleagues during such a significant time of the year. You’re on the ball and Pinterest-ready for all of the holidays. But you are voluntarily MIA when it comes to the “cultural months” that we have the opportunity to recognize? Hmmm. Insert any broken-hearted and curiosity Emoji here.
It’s heartbreaking and disappointing to experience. After all, these are the same people that you spend time with on a daily basis. You offer support, advice, teaching tips, etc. with your teacher friends on a daily basis. Spending time with your fellow teachers is often the highlight of your day! Why aren’t you willingly participating in teaching Black History? I am not just talking about your “assigned” Biography person. I’m talking about sharing the contributions and talents of Black people; living legends and trailblazers.
Do You See Me?
What happens in that moment when you step back and wonder, “Gee, does this person truly SEE me”? Do you see my color and my culture? Because if you don’t, you don’t really see me or really value me. That isn’t good. That can’t work. Even more so, if you don’t see me. Then… are you genuinely able to see your students?
We have always been taught this- “I don’t see color, I see people”. I have heard that many a time. Genuinely, I do understand the intention behind that statement- I really do. However, as I have gotten older, I realize the flaws behind that mindset. I don’t want you to pre-judge me for my ______________ (color of my skin, address, education, marital status, finances, etc…), of course. BUT, you do need to recognize, acknowledge, and embrace those aspects as being quintessentially m-e! Right?
The color of your skin, the freckles on your nose, your accent, your twists, your limp; all of it tells the story of who you are. Truly, I must see all of those things when I engage with you. That’s you! I need to see you. I want to see you! Don’t you LOVE that?!
February is Black History Month. What a beautiful opportunity to shine a spotlight on the contributions of Black people with your students! Right? YES! Of course, teaching Black History does not have to be “saved” for the month of February exclusively, but it is important to honor this monumental event each year during the month of February especially.
The Doors Speak!
I shared photos of the doors that my colleagues and I decorated for Black History Month. Two of us were not able to design doors last year, but our desire was sparked and we kept that flame burning for those 365 1/4 days! This year, was our year! You should have seen us encouraging the other and cheering each other on. It was such an exciting process that sent chills of delight and an abundance of pride through our veins. Every time I walk past one of my friends’ and colleagues’ doors, I smile from within. It just makes me feel so good.
Everyone’s history is special. There’s just something about celebrating and seeing your own history being valued and recognized that is priceless. It’s genuinely even more priceless when you come from a culture that is often overlooked or that might be looked down upon. So, when it is your _____ (month, day, week, moment, …) to be recognized, you light up like a firefly in June.
A Moment of Self-Reflection
This next section was not a part of my original post. As you know, I am very reflective and believe in actively practicing self-reflection. I know that there are many that do not teach Black History because they don’t want to. Hard truth. I know of schools that do not teach it. I have heard of parents that “won’t allow” their children to be taught “that garbage”. All of that is gut-wrenching and honestly, disturbing and very sad. However, I am also reflective enough to realize that sometimes there are other reasons that may go unspoken. I added this next section in honor of those who may think that not being a Persson of Color excludes them from being qualified to teach Black History. Well, I have joyous news for you- It doesn’t!!
You Don’t Need to Be Black to Teach Black History
Just in case you have thought this or were thinking this, know that it could not be further from the truth. Please don’t think that not being African American rules you out as being able to teach epic lessons about Black History. You may feel as though it might be best for you to not attempt such lessons because you don’t want to be perceived in a negative light (i.e. teaching something that you could not “possibly know about”). Not true at all, my friend. Not true at all! It shows your humanity, your humility, and your recognition of the beauty and capacity of others.
If it is in your heart to deliver excellent and powerful learning opportunities to your students, then you already have what you need. Add research to that thriving desire, and you’ll have the powerful combination that will be the driving force behind your lessons. Study. I have to study and research, too. Prepare. Write notes. Be compassionate and gracious towards yourself (don’t expect perfection). Go for it! Your students will be all the better from your sharing inspiring lessons with them!
Sidebar: This post that I penned last year may be helpful. In it, I suggest an easy way to kick off Black History lessons. You may find this post helpful, as well. In it, I share 7 tips for teaching successful Black History lessons.
Infusing Black History Seamlessly
Create meaningful assignments, arts and crafts, and/or projects. Keyword- meaningful. Create a hall display. Create a quilt. Have students weave paper of African-inspired colors and share them. Study African Art or African artists. Allow your class to select a person that they are inspired by and create a poster or artifact that represents them. Give students the opportunity to write a letter to a chosen person. Give them the freedom to respectfully wonder, ask questions, and make suggestions. Don’t simply stick to the “tried and true”trailblazers.
We love and appreciate them, but please remember that Black History is a living, thriving, happening every second culture. It is not solely about our past or our past accomplishments. We are continuously doing great things! Who is a mover and a shaker in the _______ (arts, sciences, government, business world, educational system…) right now?
Simply, be true. Be open. Be intentional. Be mindful. Be culturally sensitive. Be a researcher. Be you. Be the amazing y-o-u that wants to learn more and that wants to teach your students more about the contributions and magic that is Black History. It’s magical for me! I hope that you will make it magical for you and your students!
Don’t save all of this magic for the month of February. Teach Black History throughout the year. After all, Black History is all of our history. : )