Every year at this time, I see the discussions pop up about Black History. Should there be a month or not to acknowledge the contributions of Black people in history? Many feel it should be taught all along and many feel it is an insult to have a month. And then you have a segment of the population who just don’t care either way. It is no big deal. But for me it is a very big deal.
For me, it is very personal for so many reasons. I would like to try to frame my feelings around my three biggest roles in life.
- Me, a black person: As a black student in school in the 60’s it was painful to see blacks portrayed in textbooks. The only time we saw ourselves was as slaves when we talked about slavery in this country. Or we saw Africans, partially clothed, and always as natives in the jungle, looking feral or rabid. Black people usually were not talked about in the classroom, and if so very uncomfortably by the teacher. So as I aged and began to read more and listen more, the world began to include more conversation about my history. While much of it was painful, it was riveting. I thirsted for more and I was driven to learn as much as I could for myself, my understanding and my empowerment. A lot of it was attained through my quest for information and many years of searching and reading and conversations with elders who have carried a lot of our personal history to their graves.
- Me as a Mother: As a mom, I wanted my sons to know their history. I infused it in conversations, in books, in experiences and in every facet of their lives. I wanted them to understand the rich and powerful history of our race, not to promote themselves as better than, but to recognize who they were and who their ancestors were and that they had an amazing history that was still very much a part of who they were becoming. They have a strong father who added to that and I also had them participate in community programs like “Men of Tomorrow” who mentored them into becoming strong, confident black men enriched by their history and assertive in their role in this world. I was intentional in exposing them to our history; the good, the bad and the ugly and having unlimited conversations to help them understand and to help guide them on their own personal journey.
- Me, as a Teacher: As a teacher, Black History was not an add on. It was infused throughout my curriculum. My information was not initially included in the text books but it was brought in through supplemental materials, searches on the internet and sources which are available to anyone who wants to make sure the whole history is told. And as I neared the end of my teaching career, much to my delight, I was beginning to see it in standard curriculum materials. I believe the debate on whether we should have a Black History month or not is counterproductive. I don’t particularly care how you do it, but just do it. There are far to many contributions from people of color woven into the fabric of world history and U.S. history and to ignore it or marginalize it is a disservice to our students and to ourselves. My classroom motto for years was: “When you know your history, you know your greatness”. I encouraged my students to ask their families about their history. Ask their grandparents questions. Just ask, ask, ask. For knowledge is indeed power. If any of my students came away believing Black people think they are better because the have their own month, then I failed in what I was teaching. It was never about being better, or thought higher of, but rather just being inclusive.
One of the hardest things I ever had to teach was a College for Kids course one summer. It was 2 weeks long and I had to put the history of black people from ancient Egypt to the present in 2 weeks. I wrestled and I struggled in determining what was most important and what could be omitted. That is pretty much what like Black History month boils down to. 28 or 29 days to determine an entire history of a people to share is daunting. That is why I believe it must be infused. It must be included. It cannot be omitted. To limit it to a calendar event is wrong.
So whatever you feel about this month, whatever you choose to do or not do, ponder this. There is a generation of young minds seeking knowledge, seeking truth. When you tell the truths of history, are you telling everyone’s truths?