I am an African-American teacher who loudly and proudly celebrates Black History Month. It brings me so much joy, yet so much anguish. Every February, I brace myself for my colleagues’ collective groan as they feel forced to teach Black History to their students. I pride myself on being the voice of positivity in my personal and professional groups, so I point out what an amazing opportunity it is to learn about Black heroes and their impact on history.
Leading by example, I put up elaborate bulletin boards, send out daily emails with snapshots of moments in Black History and share the resources I have collected over the years. My efforts are always in vain, and the complaining commences. The excuses range from not feeling knowledgeable to thinking we should have a month for Caucasian history. With a forced smile, I remind them that the month was created to celebrate an ethnic group’s accomplishments which were the least valued in society yet achieved so much.
Why does it pain my co-workers to teach Black history? How can you look at your Black students and have a negative attitude about celebrating their heritage? Why deny your non-Black students the chance to learn about Black heroes in history? I have tried for years to make sense of the combative attitude about Black History Month, but I can’t. Not when it brings so much value to our students.
Black History Month is equally important for all people, but especially our youth. February is a time for African-American students to celebrate the heroes in history who share their skin tone, but it is also a reminder that they have the ability to achieve greatness. I remind my students that Black history does not begin with slavery, and I start February’s curriculum celebrating Black Kings and Queens.
We learn about King Hannibal, one of the greatest leaders and strategists of all time. He was born in 247 B.C. in present-day Tunis in North Africa. My students can tell you about Queen Nefertari and King Ramesses II, whose love brought the hundred-year war between Nubia and Egypt to an end. They can state facts about Queen Nzingha, a military leader who ruled in the early 1600s.
How many times has a fancy girl or woman been described as the Queen of Sheba? I wonder if the person using this term realized that they described an Ethiopian Queen who reigned in 960 B.C. Admittedly, I smiled almost goofily, calling my daughters by that name, beaming with pride after learning its origin.
Black History is rich, extensive, and should be taught in its entirety. Slavery and segregation are extremely important components, but they are not where we began.
Learning about civil rights in our country’s past shows us how far we have come but reminds us of how far we still have to go. The Black Lives Matter movement emphasizes that African-Americans are still fighting for and championing basic human rights. As we remember our ancestors’ strength, courage, and wisdom, we move forward with hope for the future.