It’s time for me to have a moment of truth.
I’m sure I’ll get some backlash for stating my opinion, but I just cannot contain myself any longer. I absolutely HATED black history month.
I am black. I said it. I hated black history month.
As I see many posts popping up of new products, people asking/looking for ideas for MLK day and so on... I get a little bothered. I know Martin Luther King, Jr. day is NOT in February, but to me it's so closely related.
Let me give you a little backstory first. I went to a predominantly black school all my life (elementary to high). I had a really good mix of teachers so that isn't the issue. I went to a predominantly white college. During elementary school, I don’t remember learning much about African American historical figures other than Martin Luther King, Jr. By the time I got to middle school, I didn’t want to hear another WORD about BHM.
I was so over it. Slavery, Underground Railroad, MLK, blah blah blah!!!!! My 6th grade homeroom teacher was Mr. Abernathy. If you’ve ever heard of Ralph Abernathy, you’ve GOT IT. They’re related. I live in Alabama so it’s not uncommon for people to be related to civil rights leaders and activists. As you know, a lot went down in Alabama during the Civil Rights movement. Back to the point, Mr. Abernathy didn’t necessarily believe in BHM. He believed that every day was February. *total sarcasm*
Seriously... we heard something related to it every DAY!
So imagine this 6th grade girl who still played with Barbie dolls, going through boy phases, joining a school that combined three schools at once, getting new friends, making new enemies and having a homeroom teacher that wanted to talk about black leaders and activists every single day.
I thought I was over it in elementary school. GEEEESH! He never SHUT UP! When February rolled around, he went ALL out. I’ve probably seen every single video that has ever been produced regarding Civil Rights, slavery, and anything in between. I HATED BLACK HISTORY MONTH!
Are you getting a sense of why I was not a fan? I felt like every year the SAME four or five people were talked about. I was so tired of hearing about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and Harriet Tubman. I understood the importance of those people, but what new was I learning every year? I wasn't.
I went on to high school where it wasn’t a huge deal. Then, I went to Jacksonville State University. During my freshman or sophomore year, I took a class by a white professor. I cannot remember his name for the life of me. It was Oral Communications. Haven’t we ALL had to take this? Remember me saying this is a predominantly white campus? Well, I was sitting in his class during the spring semester. He began to tell us about our next assignment and it would be a speech about influential African Americans. Who would have thought?
I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked actually. I would have never imagined that we would have to research and give a speech on an African American. Can you feel my hair standing on my neck? Well, it was! I was SOOOO sick of talking about the same people. I could have gotten up there at that exact moment and did a ten minute speech on anyone of his choosing – so I thought.
He already had names prepared for us to research. He also commented that we would NOT be researching the normal names. He started calling out names of people I’ve NEVER heard of. WHAT? I didn’t know these people? How could this be? I’ve had all of these people drilled into my memory and now I was actually learning something.
He named actors from plays, influential blacks from France, musicians, dancers, singers and the list could go on. I was hooked. I could not wait to learn more about some of these people I’ve never heard of.
What was the difference? He was stepping out of that comfort zone box of norm. He didn’t give us Sojourner Truth or Benjamin Banneker. He gave very influential people that I’m sure a large majority of us had never heard of.
When the days came for speeches, I learned SO much. I knew that I couldn’t have hated black history as I previously thought. I was sick of hearing about the same leaders. Yes, those people that I heard about every year are the reason I am able to teach, go to any place I want to without fear, and have an amazing life – but they are not the end.
There are hundreds of other influential African Americans that I could have been learning about that whole entire time.
Ask yourself these simple questions:
Do I teach about MLK and Rosa Parks year after year after year?
Do you realize there is more to black history than Ruby Bridges?
Do you realize that black history also includes some amazing white people? Do a little research and learn about people that aren't the norm.
Please don’t be that teacher that makes your students HATE BHM as I did. I think I could have learned so much more throughout my education if only my teachers stepped out from the norm. I cannot be that teacher.
With that thought in mind, I am already planning out how I will be teaching black history this year. For every civil rights related person, I want to tell them about two that are not related to civil rights. I know that along the way they will learn all that they need to know about Rosa Parks, MLK, and Ruby Bridges. I do not want to do them a disservice and teach what I know they will get from here on out.
Are you the teacher that teaches the norm? This doesn't mean just with black history, but with teaching in general. Step out. Give your kids information that they may not get anywhere else.
Do a search for K-2 black history resources and see how many Martin Luther King, Jr., Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks items pop up.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
I'll be introducing a new influential person every day for the entire month. I will NOT be talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, or Ruby Bridges. It seems silly, but would I like for them to know other people? Absolutely. Does this mean that you shouldn't? Of course not. As a teacher, I know that I would not do Martin Luther King, Jr. or Ruby Bridges any justice if I talked about them. I'm not interested in them. I need to teach what interests me as well.
My kids can tell if I'm into something or not. If I'm not into it, why should they be?
Every day, we'll read a portion of a book I made. It's just easy facts. They'll record three facts in their own Snapshots of BHM book. At the end of the week, they'll take that book home and we'll make a new one the next week with five new people.
We also make a chart for each of the people that we learn. In the beginning, it's pretty basic. After we cover a few, they become more interested and find better details. It's amazing to watch how much they learn.
As time allows, we'll be doing some other activities such as circle maps or playing a memory game from easy facts. This way, they are learning about different people. I don't have to talk MLK for four weeks straight.
Oooookkay. I'm sure I lost some people with this one, but that's it. I'm stepping off the stage and heading back to my little quiet place.