Dear School Community,
As we conclude the month of February and the annual observation of Black History Month, it’s important to reflect on the contributions, achievements, struggles, and progress of black Americans across our nation. I ask that you reflect on the activities you conducted during February and consider the value they added to cultural awareness and the learning opportunities they provided to all students, regardless of race.
In the United States, black history is inexorably linked to an ongoing struggle for social justice and equality. It’s also important to note that our textbooks often don’t elaborate on the rich history of the black experience worldwide. As educators, we must seize opportunities to supplement our textbooks by exploring the black experience pre-slavery, and present global contributions in the context of world history.
Do we teach about the 3 to 5 million people of African ancestry living in France; the African experience in the Caribbean; the presence of African and Caribbean immigrants in London dating back to the reign of Henry VIII; and the Moors of Spain? To make my point clear, a 10th grade student may well be taught about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, slavery, and Malcolm X each and every year for a decade. But there’s so much more information we can share! For example, how recently did many of us learn about the untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, "who were brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit."
In addition, black history can teach us the crucial lesson that other points of view have value. We may not necessarily agree with what others think, say, or believe, but our country has long been a place in which the existence of differences is viewed as a strength. It’s an essential lesson, and one that not everyone – adults included – has learned to embrace.
Finally, in reminding us about the achievements of the past, Black History Month provides us with barometers for success. When we see what Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, Frederick Douglass, and so many others managed to accomplish in the face of stunning impediments, it can inspire us to overcome the barriers of today.