Three Tips for Celebrating Black History (and the History of All People of Color)

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When I was in school, Black History Month was my favorite time of year. It was the month I was guaranteed at least one shout-out to my culture–even if the lesson was brief and quickly put together.

In fifth grade, I was so frustrated with the careless lesson my teacher taught for BHM, that I asked her if I could organize and perform a “Black” play for the class. She obliged my offering, but, now, when I think about this moment, I always wonder… how are you gonna have your 10 year old student plan and organize a better Black History lesson than you?

A strong teacher would have taken my offer as a wake up call, but I guess you can say this was one of the memories that pushed me into the classroom years later. As a classroom teacher, and now as a school leader, I strive to ensure that the students I serve have a richer academic experience with Black History than I did. Here are three tips that you should keep in mind as you plan future lessons centering Black people, and other communities of color.

  1. Skip the Starting Line-Up. We all love MLK and Rosa Parks, but chances are, if you’re teaching students older than second grade, someone has told them about these key players. Instead of focusing on the usual Starting Line-Up, teach students about people or moments in Black History that aren’t often focused on. Key players from The Harlem Renaissance, the contributions of Black people in the neighborhood you teach,The Black Panther Party, The Tuskegee Airmen, Black scientists are subjects that students are often unfamiliar with, and find interesting. You can also address people and movements that are currently contributing to Black culture.
  2. Make the content academic and rigorous. When covering material that focuses on people of color, it should be just as academic and engaging as the material centering European folks. By making content that features people of color highly academic, you’re reinforcing to your students that they’re academic, and that the communities they come from not only matter to them, but are also the fabric of our society.
  3. Don’t Begin or End in February. I intentionally posted this piece at the end of Black History Month, because as an educator/ as a human being, I actively honor Black History month all year long, and so should all teachers, regardless of the ethnic background of you and your students. Why would we limit our investigation of Black history, or the history of any community of color for one very short month? Black History is American history… it’s world history… and it’s relevant to every aspect of our day-to-day life and to our future.  Sankofa.
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