What Would Carter G. Woodson Do?: When your child’s school doesn’t celebrate Black History Month

In February of 2015, my wife and I noticed that the boys were not talking about any looming Black History month material from the elementary school we enrolled them in when we arrived here in Charlotte. Not one mumbling word. So we had an over the phone conference with the principal; a middle age, laid back white gentlemen, who from time to time I could overhear whistling classics by the Temptations from his convertible. He told us that they don’t celebrate Black history month, because they try to keep the focus on a more multi cultural environment. But the following month they happily celebrated Dr. Seuss week or day, who come to find out, the bastard (Dr. Seuss, not the principal) created dozens of racists cartoons before hitting it big with Cat In the Hat. That’s totally unacceptable on many levels, especially for an administration of a pretty multi cultural school. Every ethnicity should have a month of positive celebration in my opinion.

I didn’t pressure the administration much, but I should have. We were renting and in the process of buying a new house, which meant the fellas would be attending new schools. It was a missed opportunity on my part to make things right. Despite the foolish notions from some Black people that we don’t need Black History month, I have always found it imperative, and not just for our children, but for all children, so that they can recognize the greatness outside of their own culture. Which brings us to the kids’ new school—they didn’t celebrate BHM either. What in the Crispus Attucks is going on in suburban America?!

So my wife and I set up another face to face meeting with the principal of the new school. She was very open and accommodating young lady. She was also honest in acknowledging that academics and improving test scores have been more of a priority than highlighting events such as BHM. Although they did have a wax museum a few months back. Most if not all of the Black students were prominent African American historical icons (Sy Money was the brother that created refrigeration for trucks, Frederick McKinley Jones). So I was pleased by that. But it wasn’t enough, so we came up with a solution—I’ll get to that later.

I was still blown away by the fact that Black history seems nonexistent in suburban schools. Maybe the educators are not informed enough or connected enough to pull it off. Maybe there’s an overall sense of apathy for the contributions of Black people in this country. Maybe the parents find it non consequential. I don’t know, but we had to do something, and so do you if the same thing is happening in your child’s school.

Pretty boy McCoy and Solo were once students at an Afrikan Centered school way back in the day in Kansas City. ACE-CC (Afrikan Centered Education Collegium Campus ) was quite honestly the best public school in the city for a number of years, before it was eventually shut down, in my opinion, due to constant banging of heads between the leadership of the school and a district that wasn’t (and still isn’t) really serious about Black academic achievement. Any liberation from the current structure of public education has to be a complete separation of funding and administration from state or city support if the school is going to thrive and produce change in its respective community….but that’s another post for another day.

ACE Scholars!

(Solo and E, circa 2008-Kansas City, MO)

Between pre-K and the fourth grade for Ezra, the boys participated in Harambee! every Monday morning; a celebration for the entire school of academic success from the prior week. It was highlighted with a medal ceremony complete with an African drum ensemble, songs and chants laced with cultural upliftment, and affirmation.  Every Monday! This school was so Black, and so empowering, that in February, in addition to celebrating Black history month, we even celebrated Malcolm X’s birthday—for an entire week!

Dig that.

Since then, they’ve attended, another high performing school, a charter school, once lead by a brilliant, passionate, dedicated Black woman, Dr. Tiffany Anderson. She was removed by a predominately white, wealthy board with a predominately Black student body. The school changed superintendents multiple times, which was one of the major catalysts for us leaving Kansas City for Charlotte. Meanwhile, Dr. Anderson went on to turn a district, outside of St. Louis, right side up. Charter schools, and again, this is my opinion, are like social experiments by folks from outside of a community that think it’ll be cool to help the ‘poor little Black and Latino children’. These schools are constructed with an extreme amount of arrogance, and they exclude the true leadership in the community that could actually help guide them in the right direction. When was the last time you’ve gone to a predominately white suburban school and ran into Teach For America graduates that don’t live in the community that they serve? Sabotage to the highest degree.

If there is no serious vested interest in the children and those families that the children come from, there can be no serious attempt at offering a strong and exceptional, world class educational experience for that community.

A major part of that world class education is teaching children about themselves, as a culture, as a society, and real life, honest discussions and lessons on history and race from all angles. All children. Which brings me back to Black history month and the recognition of Africans and African Americans that have not only served as blue prints for Black excellence, but also people and movements that have served as examples of how great America could actually be. I can’t remember a time growing up when we didn’t celebrate Black History Month at school. The only negative, now that I look back on it, was that we were never exposed to the good times, to the excellence, to the entire story. Only black and white, grainy footage of civil rights workers being beaten, hosed, chased by dogs and tales of post slavery triumphs. A psychological beat down on poor Black children at its finest.

But what about the broad list of African Americans and Africans that helped to literally build this country, and were the backbones and building blocks to societies all over the world? What of the history that began long before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade? Martin Luther King seemed more like Paul Bunyan; a far off mythical legend that  realistically should have still been fresh on the recent memory of America, seeing how he was only assassinated less than fifteen years prior to my third grade year. This, as professor Michael Eric Dyson once called our great land, the United States of Amnesia, only wants  to remember what they want us to remember. Most American citizens are short changed, purposefully, of the wealth of contributions made by people of color.

It’s appalling how little suburban and even rural white children are taught about the domestic and international contributions that others have made that do not look like them. It’s what’s defined as being ethnocentric. Ethnocentricity consumes every aspect of American culture from politics, to pop culture.  It seems like it has always been that way. Everyone of importance, power, ingenuity, influence, brilliance, and beauty are often portrayed as fair skinned people of European decent.

I saw commercials for two popular shows on CBS where the characters are all 20-somethings and considered geniuses. None of them are Black. The Disney channel is so full of stereotypes of Black children, boys and girls, it’s sickening. There are no lead Black female characters that look….Black; not biracial, not quasi-Latina, but Black-Black, and that’s important (and to be honest, Black male hip-hop artists are just as guilty of this). The boy characters are never the smart, popular guy that all of the girls have crushes on. Heaven forbid in 2016 that little white girls openly profess a liking for Black boys on TV. They’re either the jocks or comic relief. And forget about either of them, Black boy or girl, being a leader in any such circumstances. If you have Black children, you just become more aware of the eradication or minimization of characters of color in pop culture, and that includes protagonists in chapter books and novels, that essentially shout YOU DONT REALLY EXIST OR MATTER. Go to the websites of the companies that publish the books that your child reads. Tell me how many lead Black characters you see that have nothing to do with historical fiction, slavery, modern day ‘Hood” tales, etc. Tell me how many characters of color do you see as the star of a fantasy, a princess, or just a slice of life book. G’head.

It’s been my experience that a large percentage of white American children, especially those children from predominately homogeneous communities and regions of the country, seem to be taught the least amount of tolerance and cultural sensitivity. When everyone around you that holds a leadership position or one of authority looks like you, there really is no reason or an opportunity to practice tolerance. The only problem is those children become adults, educated adults in many cases, that have nothing to accurately draw from when it comes to relating to or identifying equally as human beings, with other cultures except for the vile, stereotypes that they’ve been fed. That’s why there are so many examples on the campuses of large universities and colleges of racist incidents that occur, and always have, when students of color are a minuscule minority.

Solo P. NewtonMost recently, at the University of Missouri Black students reported racist acts all over the campus for months, years, but the administration refused to act on any of the claims seriously. The Black players on the football team (a huge money generating machine for universities) threatened to sit out for games, which caused the president to resign. Now that is real power!  Those football players, no doubt, were enlightened at an early age of their lineage as it relates to fighting for and standing up to unfair treatment and bigotry.

Black history month plays a huge role in informing Black children, like those young men, of where they came from. It teaches them that Black history didn’t begin with the enslavement of African people in this country. It shows them what great things that they can accomplish. In contrast to their white counterparts, our children receive the least amount of affirming information and imagery that tell the true story of who they are, where they came from, and what their lives are worth. I do my best to give the Mighty impromptu BHM lessons throughout the year. I have to. I must.  We talk about the pioneers, the ground breakers, we talk about Africa, we talk about Jim Crow, civil rights, discrimination, disparities, and lynchings. I have to discuss it all. A white parent (I’m assuming because I’ve never been a white parent) can skip that dark part of American history and not share any of it with their child, and it won’t affect their safety, chances of advancement, or opportunity in this country at all. It’s literally a life or death situation with Black children. It’s a matter of self confidence. It’s a matter of navigation and survival. But how much of a disadvantage are the Black children that know from whence they came, when they are around other Black children who don’t have a clue, or white employers, policemen, judges, gatekeepers, educators, etc. who were left in the dark when it came to an unedited, uncensored, solid Black American history lesson?

That brings me back to the meeting that my wife and I had with the principal of the new elementary school that our boys attend. She was cool and open to any such suggestions. I joked about a Malcolm X week and she just rolled her eyes at me playfully. I imagine that the white parents would be as up in arms as America was after Beyonce’s Black Panthers performance at Super Bowl Fifty 50. Baby steps. Every suburban, predominately white school in America should make some attempt, ANY attempt to highlight the many contributions of every ethnic group in this country. That’s my word.  I’m sending her a plan that will have each grade level focusing on a particular genre (Arts, Science, Sports, Business, Medicine, Government/Law) and each class will do research on two individuals. Every class will choose one of their historical figures to present for the annual school Black History Month program. Sounds good, right?

When the babies, all the babies, of every color, are made aware of how important everyone is when it comes to the make up and tapestry of this country, that’s how you achieve true diversity and cultural respect and understanding. You MUST make yourself available, and speak up when you are not being represented properly, or else you’ll simply be erased from history altogether and they’ll make up their own story about you. Not on my watch.

The RTM joint of the month is KRS One’s “You Must Learn” My brother, the Teacha, one of the God emcees,  Kris Parker gave one of the first hip hop, Black History lessons on this one. Definite classic.

 

 

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