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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Teaching Sankofa: An Intro

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I write. I educate. I lead.

But, more than anything, I think and I learn.

I often get lost in thought while considering the past, how it reverberates into the present, and how to presently use the past to prepare for the future.

In other words, I think in Sankofa.

Teaching Sankofa is about two things that I think a lot about—race and education. It’s not didactic in its nature, though I’ll provide my own learnings. Teaching Sankofa is a space for me (and for you) to think more about race and education… to remind ourselves about how the past affects our present, and how the decisions we presently make determine our future.

This blog considers culturally responsive pedagogy, positive discipline, social justice curriculum, children books I love, etc… It also includes the trips and falls I experience as a young leader in education.

From time to time, I’ll include posts called “Realities from the Field,” which are quick recollections of real things that happen at school on a day to day basis. Sometimes the realities are heartbreaking, other times they’re simply funny.

This blog is present tense,

though it draws from its past

and keeps its future at its fingertips.

This blog is Post-Obama,

Currently Trump;

The future teeter-totters in its foresight.

Who’s this blog for?: Well, it’s for you! It’s for educators, parents of children, aunties, uncles and grandparents of children, and people who have attended school.

This blog is for people who care about our future.

Who’s writing this blog: Kirsti-Jewel, sometimes known as ShesGotTheMic, is this blog’s author. I’ve been blogging about race and _________ for about 8 years now, but decided to focus my blogging on race and education.

I’ve been working with children since I was 16, but spent my early 20s trying to avoid the classroom. I embraced my destiny seven years ago when I became a credentialed teacher for Oakland Unified School District. After teaching 4th and 5th grade for for five years, I transitioned into administration and am currently one of two directors for a charter school in Richmond, CA. I’m what many people call, “young,” when they find out my position, though I find being in my early 30s and paying off student loans very A-dult.

I’m a Black/Mixed Race Woman who was raised to be fierce. I notice people avoiding naming my racial descriptors to my face, but they shape how I navigate education and how I navigate the world.

If you’re interested in credentials, they read: B.A. in Creative Writing/ Journalism; M.A. in Women and Gender Studies; Teaching Credential in Urban Education. Yes, I’m a TFA Alumni (Got problems with TFA? So do I.)

It’s important to note that while this blog has been in the making for almost a year, it comes 4 days post Trump Inauguration. This blog is birthed the day Trump signs his first order to put policies in place that will create unsafe living conditions for immigrants/ people-who-appear-immigrant…AKA 60% of my students. It is also the day he signs an executive order to move forward with building a wall along the US border between the US and Mexico. History teaches us that this not only affects my Latino students/friends; it affects us all… It affects our present; it affects our future. We must wake up. Teaching Sankofa