Black History Month is nearing its end, and unfortunately, this means many students won’t give much thought to black history for another eleven months. I believe this is a serious problem. Black history is a rich—and American—history, and we do all of our students a grave disservice when we compartmentalize it. Instead, we should celebrate black history 365 days a year, and help all kids understand their (and their classmates’) agency and promise.
We have to commit ourselves to teaching all children about the triumphs and brilliance of black people in this country, and to go beyond highlighting only a handful of black figures during a handful of days while ignoring the amazing tapestry of black persons, accomplishments and innovation. We have to believe and act like black history and, by extension, black students’ lives matter. And we have to do this every single day.
Because when we believe and act like black history matters, we get awesome people like Melinda Anderson and Justin Giuliano highlighting #TodayInBlackHistory and #BlackHistoryYouDidntLearnInSchool. We also get educators like Lee-Ann Stephens, José Vilson, Christina Torres and so many others who are committed to ensuring that the work and ideas of educators and children of color are valued year-round.
But when we don’t believe and act like black history matters, students may think that black history and people are somehow separate from—and not integral to—American history and society. When students play a “slavery simulation” game, but don’t have opportunities to read Gwendolyn Brooks or learn about Ronald McNair, how will they appreciate the humanity and limitless potential of black people?
“Black History Month, Latino Heritage Month, Asian-American History Month, and other such-named periods matter because my kids feel anger at the situations that happen to people who look like them, but they rarely see how we got here,” José Vilson writes. “Black History Month should be an activation of our students’ agency, to understand the triumphs and follies anywhere and to hopefully do better than we did.”
So, why am I—an employee at an education advocacy organization—writing about this? Because anyone or any group that purports to strive for education equity must seriously engage in conversations about race in America, and work toward a public education system that activates every student’s agency, 365 days a year.
All of our students need to know the richness of black history. All of our students need to realize the sheer breadth of accomplishments and innovation found within black history. All of us need to realize the brilliance and promise found within our black children. And we all need to talk about it more than 28 days a year.