Dear Black People, We Can Have a Better Black History Month

Feb 21, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by Tanesha Peeples

The other day I conducted a Facebook poll to see how many of my friends felt that they’d received an accurate and in-depth classroom education around African-American history from K-12. I wasn’t surprised to hear that many of them—with the exception of two that attended private schools—answered no. All said that they’d gotten the lessons on the usuals—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, etc. Most said that they felt their school didn’t prioritize teaching African-American history and one person even stated that she and some of her classmates had to petition their school to start offering a Black history course. Hell, I didn't learn about Claudette Colvin until a conversation with esteemed reformer, advocate and educator, Dr. Howard Fuller. I, too, had received only a “crash course” in African-American history throughout my K-12 education. I mean, let’s face it, we might as well give up on traditional public schools teaching us anything beyond “Martin having a dream” and “Harriet freeing some slaves.” [pullquote]People who ranged in age from baby boomers to millennials attested to being given a surface education around Black history[/pullquote] so I doubt that much is different for youth in the K-12 system today. And honestly, how can we expect our youth to know where they’re going if they don’t have much of a clue as to where they come from?

Exploring Our History 365 Days a Year

As African-Americans, we have to define and embrace our culture, explore our history and educate our own children. While Black history is not something that can be compressed, taught and learned within these 28 allotted days a year, it seems as if we’ve been conditioned to being the most Black and proud and indulging in our history during that time. This has to change. Our youth not only have to learn about African-American history, but also African history. They have to know that our existence didn’t just begin when we touched the American shores of the Atlantic 400 years ago. Teach them about the ancient kingdoms in Africa where Black people ruled as kings and queens—had our own systems of government and prospered together! Then go into into African-American history. How we were brought here, stripped of our culture and identities, brutalized and treated as property—but didn’t give up. Teach them about Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey and other slaves that organized and led rebellions seeking freedom. Make them understand the value of education—for [pullquote position="right"]many of our ancestors died just because they wanted to learn how to read.[/pullquote] So we created our own institutions of learning—from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to freedom schools. And how despite a number of laws to integrate schools were passed, schools still remain very much segregated today. Don’t forget to go into the history where we built and sustained our own economic strongholds. Sweet Auburn in Atlanta, Black Wall Street in Tulsa and Parrish Street in Durham were known for producing thriving Black businesses and professionals—evidence that we can indeed have our own. Tell them about how we built this country and fought in wars to protect it from foreign and homegrown adversaries but still didn’t have "equal" rights. So we fought and died for them, most notably on Bloody Sunday. Last but certainly not least, educate them on how hard it is being Black in America in 2018. [pullquote position="left"]Black history isn’t just a celebration of the “notable” people during the month of February.[/pullquote] It’s our history that’s very much ingrained in American history. One of my friends who answered my Facebook poll, Damascus Harris, said, “They [the school system] don't need to teach Black history. If they would honestly teach White history, the gaps and questions that would arise would force the teaching of our history.” But...we can’t rely on that. We owe it to ourselves, our ancestors and the generations to come to have full knowledge of our past because that’s the compass that will guide us now and in the future. So dear Black people, I urge you to dig deep. Educate yourselves. And celebrate us the whole 365 days of the year. Or else, like Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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