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Black History: Digging in the Diaspora

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

As the ides of February have passed once more, I am reminded of how infrequently Black History Month is acknowledged in classrooms, schools and even teacher education.

A nationally recognized celebration pioneered by Carter G. Woodson, seems to have lost its bite in a time where it would serve to unify and enlighten so many. In my classes, my “Happy Black History Month!” is met with meek giggles and faint responses. In K-12 spaces students complete coloring sheets detached from meaningful movements. Schools and districts are woefully on par with this great disappearing act. A quick Google will yield any number of scholastic calendars filled with hearts and flowers, but not a trace of this cultural observance.

In some of the most diverse locales, this pushback is characterized by a generic multicultural complacency.

“If we celebrate African-Americans this month, when do we celebrate Indians? And who will guide us is celebrating Croatians and…”

The American part of celebrating has not only been deemphasized, but has been positioned in direct contrast to the ability to highlight the necessary multifacetedness inherent in our collective national ideals.

Let Black History Month serve as an exemplar for how to engage with parts of our past and present that do not get reflected in a robust and balanced way in classrooms across the country. The teaching of culture according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages highlights the need for using the 3 P’s: products, practices, and perspectives. Operationalizing it may look a bit like this;

Products - Stories from around the world grounded by deep and compelling values and histories that draw in all students to the unique impact Africa has made world-wide in the face of generations of obstacles.

Practices - Opportunities to experience community via movement and call and response activities which open learners’ eyes to collective power, uplift and responsibility.

Perspectives - Enduring truths that are passed down from ancient understandings like those shared in the tales of Anansi the spider:

Big or small, you can win with cleverness.

When one wins, we all win.

We are stronger together.

Maybe reaching backwards will only ever be en vogue when we place the gems of the past in a brighter and more connected hope for our united future.

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