By now most of you have probably heard the controversial commentary of Clueless actress Stacey Dash, calling for the end of Black Entertainment Television, Black History Month and basically all things Black. I don’t agree with Stacey but, still, her comments got me thinking: Are we really making the most of Black History Month, particularly in schools? As a Black female educator and equity specialist, I believe Black history should be taught and celebrated in schools year-round. However, I also believe that because Black History Month is a special time, with a special history behind it, we educators should be extra intentional during the month of February to honor, celebrate and teach Black history in special ways.
This year, for example, I intend to honor and teach Black History Month by wearing something related to Black history for the entire month of February, to serve not only as a fashion statement, but also as a lesson. Now, why use fashion to celebrate Black History Month in school? For me, it’s a creative way for my students to learn something new about Black History every. Single. Day. Every lesson, conversation, interaction always starts with, “Guess who’s on my shirt?” Or, “Do you know who said this?” Or, “What does this mean to you?” It’s also a really great way to support Black businesses, artist, and entrepreneurs (Can we say, “Ujamaa”?). Most importantly, it is a visual representation that you can’t miss. Even if I don’t happen to have a student in one of my groups, if you see me, you gon’ learn today.
One day the first week, I wore a sweater with Nigerian artist Fela Kuti on the front. A group of my young Black men didn’t know who he was. I said his name and at first they laughed. I told them about who he was and they were intrigued. By the end, they wanted sweaters just like it and decided to write research papers on him, and the Black power movement of the late 60s and 70s. That’s right, middle school teenage boys enthusiastically decided to WRITE A RESEARCH PAPER. It’s amazing the intrinsic motivation that comes out when children learn about cool people who look like them.
Now I understand, you have lessons to teach. You have curriculum to cover. You could do something as simple as “The Black History Fact of the day.” You could have your students each present Black History that they’re interested in. Teaching English? Take time to incorporate Black literature into your unit. Teaching art? There are amazing Black artists of every art form. Math or Science? Well, who are some really awesome mathematicians or scientist you can think of? Don’t know? Do some research! Teaching history? You know what to do.
I’m not saying go out and buy a bunch of pro-Black memorabilia, post it on your walls for a month and call it a day. I’m saying make an intentional effort to teach your students about the contributions Black people have made to this country and the entire world. Engage in conversations around human rights Black people have fought for and continue to fight for. Allow them the capacity to think critically about those things in school. Show them the excellence of Black people in this country and how that relates directly to them. Tie it into your lessons. Make it important.
Black people weren’t just slaves. Black people were inventors, lawyers, doctors, judges, entrepreneurs, innovators, activists, brilliant thinkers, bold creators and so much more. All children need to be taught that. And Black History Month gives us an opportunity to be innovative and bold in how we teach it.
You can see Tarkor’s Black History fashion statement of the day on Twitter and Instagram @tarkorzehn
Tarkor grew up in Brooklyn Park and attended Osseo Area Schools, where she now works as an equity specialist for the district. Outside of work, she keeps busy as an all around education advocate and a freelance journalist, thanks in part to her undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of St. Thomas. Tarkor is passionate (and loves writing) about all things equitable and culturally responsive to the learning of children.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.