Black History Month is about seeing and being seen. When we get to see Black folks doing something other than play sports or perform music, it changes our understanding of who we are as Americans. Learning Black history is a critical element of learning American history. As an elementary school student, I knew very little about Black people outside of my family. The way that I learned history in school made Black people seem adjacent to anything that mattered. My peers got the same impression as well. As I grew older, read more on my own, and got to take more classes that told the stories of a range of Black people, it helped me learn more about myself, about America and how to move in the world. This was especially true when I met friends from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In a diverse society, membership requires meaningful sharing. Talking to my Irish-American friends, my Jewish friends, my Norwegian-American friends, my Hindu friends, I also felt jealous that there was nothing for me to contribute. Black History Month introduced people like physicist Valerie Thomas, inventors like Lonnie Johnson, the real stories Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron and the diverse political beliefs of Thomas Sowell and Angela Davis. I learned about William Lee, an enslaved African, and a highly regarded veteran of the American Revolution. I saw contributions that allowed me to take an empowered stance in cultural conversations with my peers of different backgrounds and encouraged me to identify and pursue my own dreams.
This matters to kids. If young kids of all races see Black people and Black History as an important part of American and world history, it can help them more deeply understand the struggles we face today. It can help us share with our students the context of the major racial struggles we have today without feeling guilty for not knowing or ever having learned on our own. Few of us have time for history research projects as working parents. If we offer one legacy to our children, it’s to provide them with contoured, rich, challenging accounts that help them understand why confronting difference and inequality is often such a challenge and how to make positive changes that support freedom, justice and equality.
Black History Month helps clarify for students of all races that racial inequality is not their fault. It also helps them understand that through learning, they have a chance to build stronger relationships and support their students as they learn to navigate the world where all people have valuable histories that can be honored. These histories inform our current society and engaging them empowers us to create more positive futures for us all. I hope this month is full of exploration and learning for all members of the Woodside School District community.