History & Social Studies Race & Racism

Black History Month (BHM) Series #1: A Challenge!

In honor of Black History Month, I’m reposting this previous series. A few years ago, (2015 to be exact!) I challenged myself to write 28 posts highlighting African-American History. I made a dent in my original goal, but one year later I still had a way to go. This year I finally reached my goal!!! Check out my original post below which appeared on February 2, 2015 below, and please, if you have any suggestions, post them in the comments below!

It’s Black History Month!!! Yay!

This hilarious and to the point SNL skit inspired me to write 28 posts highlighting African-American culture and heritage (roughly one for each day of the month)… Watch the video (below) and then read about why it inspired me to write this series. (You can also view the video directly on YouTube.) Happy Black History Month!

28 Reasons… (reasons 2-28 are all the same)

I mentioned in a previous post that I became an educator because it took me until college to really appreciate school, due to the fact that anything “academic” lacked relevance to what I felt was important. Social studies, for example, was a bore because my teachers focused only on memorization of dates and events. More important, our textbooks looked flat in comparison to the rich cultural tapestry that was my neighborhood. As a child of the 70/80’s growing up in Los Angeles (Silverlake to be exact), I knew that the world was much more colorful than the one that was presented to me in textbooks.

Now that I am adult, I am hungry to learn more about the diverse heritage of people who have made our country great. Especially those who were left out of my history books.

When I saw this hilarious video clip from a Saturday Night Live skit, 28 Reasons to Hug a Black Man, I had to laugh out loud; partly because it illustrates the huge discomfort many Americans have in discussing the past. More important, as an educator I have seen how our conversations with students about our past (and I am speaking now as a black person) have centered only on the negative aspects, namely slavery. While I am not discounting the importance of discussing this very important chapter in American history, it can often feel for students, especially African-American students, that this is the ONLY thing we talk about in schools when talking about black history.

“Can we talk about something other than slavery?”

I remember a specific example when I first began working at a middle school in San Francisco. I was not a regular classroom teacher at the time, and was working to develop teen leadership programs through a program called Peer ResourcesThe school I worked at would now be termed a “high performing” middle school (I started teaching before standardized testing) and was located in the Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. If you are not familiar with this neighborhood, the Sunset has a more suburban feel than many other neighborhoods in our city. Most of the students at the school were Asian-American or white, and most came from middle to upper income families.

Nonetheless, there were a small minority of African-American students who were being bussed in from the Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood. (Do you remember when districts had money for busing?) I had noticed that as a community, they were having trouble connecting with the culture of the school, and many of the students were regularly sent to the counseling office to talk about their “attitude” and “behavior”. Because my office was located in the counseling office, I often got the opportunity to chat with them about their feelings about school to learn ways that I might work with them, the staff and other students to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

One day, two students were sent to me during class time because they objected to watching a movie with the rest of the class. The teacher (an excellent one I might add) was screening the movie Glory, which is a film about the Civil War’s all-black army. The teacher and I were both surprised that they did not want to watch the film, which we both felt was a great movie highlighting the contributions of African-Americans during the Civil War. It wasn’t until I sat down with them to talk that I started to understand their reasons.

They told me that they were tired of talking about slavery. That the only people written about in their history books were slaves. If the people written about weren’t slaves, they were murdered for standing up for their rights (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr.). They were tired of seeing only tragic images of black people. They were very familiar with the movie as they had watched it with their families, and they were just not up to watching another depressing movie about black people. Especially when they were the only two black kids in class. When they explained it like this, I totally understood.

So, what am I going to do about it?

We are all responsible for the narrative that is the African-American experience. It is important to talk about slavery, because we need to recognize our past… even the ugly chapters. In addition, we must also celebrate the actors, artists, athletes and entrepreneurs who have also made our country great.

How are you celebrating Black History Month with your students and/or children?

Related Reads: Click here to view more posts in this series.

My homework assignment: Inspired by an SNL’s skit, I challenged myself to write 28 posts highlighting African-American culture and heritage (roughly one for each day of the month) in honor of Black History Month… Do you have a great resource to share? Post it in the comments or email me!

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