Robert Ellis, Julius Thomas
February is the time to study black history. Some individuals, including actor Morgan Freeman, have questioned whether Black History Month is the best way for students to learn about contributions of African Americans in our society. Here are two different viewpoints from CTA members.
YES, we should keep it
As an educator, I realize how important it is for kids to know their history. If we didn’t have Black History Month, our contributions would be lost in the overwhelming curriculum put before our teachers and students. Black history might be overlooked, minimized or ignored. We would go backwards, I believe, regarding race relations, understanding and tolerance.
Black history is a part of American history and should be incorporated into regular history lessons, but I don’t think we should give up the scarce opportunity to highlight the contributions of African Americans during February. All minority communities should be celebrated during the school year.
Black History Week began in 1926 and expanded to Black History Month in 1976. It grew from a week to a month because not enough black history was being taught. And it is still not being taught as much as it should.
Black History Month should continue because racism still exists. Just look at the presidential election. Much of the conversation did not center on Obama’s qualifications; many racially charged comments surfaced. We need to get beyond that.
Black History Month is for every child. It teaches kids to respect each other and to see role models of all colors. Demographics have changed in my community; I now have many Hispanics in my class, so I need to make sure they understand their heritage and the important contributions of Hispanics in our society.
I felt proud growing up in Los Angeles. Black History Month was a big deal at the predominantly African American elementary school I attended. My teachers made sure we met important African American leaders in our community. Guests came out and talked to us about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King. I have a picture of me in third grade with Jesse Jackson. We both had big afros.
Celebrating can take many forms. I write my own stage productions, and students dress up and play the roles of important African Americans like Ruby Bridges and Maya Angelou. My students look up current leaders like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Toni Morrison and Oprah Winfrey. I was so excited to rewrite my script to include President Barack Obama.
Black History Month should be preserved. I am very excited about celebrating it with my students this month.
A member of United Teachers of Richmond, Robert Ellis teaches first grade at Washington Elementary School. He is the chair of CTA’s African American Caucus.
NO, we should not keep it
Black history is American history, and it should be included year-round in school curriculum and not just one month out of the year.
American history should be inclusive of all cultures so we can minimize prejudice, racism, and ignorance. If we introduce more lessons about diverse cultures throughout the entire school year, we will increase tolerance, acceptance and understanding.
As a student in Chicago, I asked myself why my school designated just one month to celebrate black history. It didn’t make sense. When the slave ships brought black slaves to work the land, their history also became the history of American culture. As I said, black history is American history.
African American history is a story about being robbed of one’s culture and creating a new culture in a new land, which resulted in an extended family. Schools should tell the truth about our history — people were brought here for monetary gain. Many people benefited off the backs of African slaves, who were used to build empires. Research shows most Fortune 500 companies profited from the dubious beginnings of slavery.
I was teased during Black History Month. Other kids would say, “You came from slaves.” My mother and father taught us that we came from royalty in Africa. We traced our lineage, and I became proud of my forefathers who helped to make me what I am.
My mother taught first grade for over 30 years. She did a great job of incorporating African American history into lessons year-round. She had pictures of African American folk heroes on her wall and books that discussed the achievements of African Americans at many levels. As a student, I would often correct my teachers and talk about the important achievements of African Americans that were overlooked in most history lessons.
Unfortunately, most textbooks today minimize the contributions of African Americans to society. But the historical contributions of African Americans have been monumental, and there needs to be a push to have that information incorporated into our books and curriculum.
Today, we are in the midst of history in the making. The first African American president is fulfilling a second term with a historic second win. American society is changing and becoming more inclusive and tolerant of race, ethnicity and gender. We still have some fights to fight, but opinions are changing!
A counselor/professor at Rio Hondo Community College, Julius Thomas is at-large director overseeing ethnic and racial issues and a member of the Rio Hondo College Faculty Association.