Why I hate black history month



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.

Yes.

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.

I'm going to add each person that we talk about to our vocabulary/writing board. This will stay up just like the rest of our vocabulary words in case they want to use it in their writing. By the end of the month, it will be filled with everyone we learned about.



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.



28 comments

  1. Interesting take. I see your point. I grew up in different states in the North and I don't remember it being so unbalanced, but I can certainly see how it could be. It just so happens that usually about mid February my students are reading about George W. Carver in our reading series. I usually spend awhile focusing on his life as well as plants. I don't ever remember learning about him growing up (although I may have). I find him fascinating. Some sort of a scope and sequence guide that spans grade levels would be helpful to alleviate learning about the same people over and over and over.

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    1. That's wonderful that it lines up. Wouldn't it be perfect if we did have something to help grade levels? It's VERY unbalanced or at least it was when I grew it. I can say at my school that I'm certain that either don't teach or it's MLK. Your scope and sequence is a great idea. Thanks for reading.

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  2. That. was. excellent. I appreciate this post a great deal. I went to an all white school and all I heard were the same people, because so many of the other people were...unsafe. I hated BHM as well. When I started teaching, I wanted to be different...wanted to be better...but I had to spend the time learning FIRST and then engaging my students. Shame on a lot of us for just being about the status quo! I'm with you...we need to do better for our learners...ESPECIALLY those of us with classrooms full of brown and black children. They are inspired by learning new things...just like children of ANY color. Let's expose them to something fresh so that they are inspired to be GREAT!
    I'm in your corner on this one Keri...preach on, girl. Preach on!

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    2. I agree, but I also think white students need to see this as well. Maybe some wouldn't grow up with such biases and stereotypes if they saw and celebrated multiple African American men and women when they were in school. I remember thinking that Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and MLK were the only smart/brave/heroic black people that existed during those times and that everyone else was a slave. #truestory #thatsallilearned

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    3. Yes...agreed, Naomi! I felt similarly...and I think because a lot of people only have the names you mentioned as a reference....and the names you referenced are also found in most state standards, people teach them ad nauseum, because they are 'supposed to'. Standards are a guide. If we are teaching about black history with fidelity...it should happen more than during just February. This post and the subsequent discussion is bringing up a multitude of points I hope that teachers and bloggers will be addressing over the next several weeks. It's necessary.

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    4. Thank you ladies! I'm just tired of over saturating the same people. In general, we all need to think twice about what or how we're teaching and step out of our comfort zones.

      Naomi, the hashtag!!!! I'm cracking up!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. I don't think many people realize that the same content is being taught year after year. Thanks for pointing out the problem and offering a solution.
    I felt the same way when I was in school. By 2nd grade, I think the kids are MLK'd out. It's time for us to branch out! That scope and sequence idea is great!
    Side note: I love your blog design!

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    1. Apparently they don't realize it! It just makes me sad that people don't understand that there is more to it than the same set of "safe" people each year. Branch out. Take a risk and teach something else for a change.

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  4. This is so wonderful! I cringe when I see all the things about MLKJr for BHM and I'm always asking myself (For anything we do) - "Am I creating NEW experiences and learning for them or am I just repeating something they did before coming to me?" It's so important for kids to know that there's more to BH than civil rights leaders and that's not the only good thing people of color have done. I think in some respects, it's too easy to find information about MLKjr, Ruby Bridges etc that it's EASY and teachers feel comfortable talking about them. We need to step out of our comfort zone and give our students the learning they so desperately need and deserve. :)

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    1. LOVE!!! Thank you Ashley. That's EXACTLY how I felt today. I told one of my friends that I was waiting to post this and scrolling down FB and there was another MLK lapbook being posted. I'm not against him, I just wish it was of someone else. I love your question to yourself as well. It could definitely keep us all on our toes and interested if we asked ourselves that all of the time. Thanks for reading!

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  5. One thing I've enjoyed is learning more about other influential African Americans than the ones I heard about during elementary school. I've enjoyed making bulletin boards at school that highlight new names for the students and adding inventions to the announcements during BHM that highlight accomplishments that are too often never mentioned.
    Loved reading your blog.

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    1. Thank you Niecha! I wish I could have experienced that in school. Your kiddos are lucky to have someone like you that branches out from the norm.

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    2. Thank you for being honest. I think sometimes it's hard for us to voice our opinions about the subject because we are black, but we've got to teach our children in our classes about the other heroes out there for them to be proud of. I love doing the same thing for my girls during women's history month too.

      I also hope we start to explore more of what MLK had to say about peace and not just read his most famous speech year after year.

      Thank you again for your honesty. I am excited to follow your blog.

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  6. This post is spot on! Like you I heard about the same few people over and over and over again! We as teachers need to do so much more for our students. It's a shame to admit, but there were important BHM people I didn't even know about until a few years ago. MLK and Ruby Bridges are definitely important people, but there are countless others who need to be learned about as well. Sharing this post for sure!
    Teaching, Love, Cupcakes

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    1. Thanks Princess! I just don't want to do the same. If I'm going to teach something, I at least want them to learn something different.

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  7. So well written! I have always been a history nut and wish there was more children's literature published on the lesser know greats of history! History is also being made daily, so investigating the importance and influences of strong leaders is important. I have always taught in very diverse districts and try to cycle through character traits of leaders rather and focus on specific people, I don't know if thats right, but I also believe that is the legacy they have left us!

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    1. Thank you! Anything different than the same people over and over is fine with me! Children need to learn something new and I think most teachers just do what's comfortable. Thanks for reading!

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  8. Love it...I think a lot of the repetition of the same rhetoric is do to society. MLK, Rosa Parks....(remove Bill Cosby for 2016 going forward) have been the "approved" feel good BHM heroes for years. Could you imagine in the "right/wrong"...depends on your perspective...environment teaching about Malcom X or Marcus Garvey. Without going totally militant this is a wonderful way to offer those teachers that cringe at the sight of the feel good list. #canthadlethetruth

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    1. You just made my heart happy Stephanie!!! What's funny is I "almost" added Marcus Garvey and totally thought against it, lol. How many people REALLY know who he is and what he did though? I'm sure not many.

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  9. So I have to admit it... growing up as a white girl in small town VA, I don't remember ever really doing black history month at all... ugh! I could tell you anything you wanted to know about every civil war leader, but black history, not so much. Sure I learned about MLK and Rosa Parks eventually but not really. I never knew what an incredible injustice I was done until I became a teacher and moved to South Carolina. I always assumed that Va was part of the south but I promise you it is not truly the south! I started in my first classroom as a second grade teacher. These children knew more about MLK and Rosa Parks than I did. They were telling me things I had never heard of before. I asked them how they knew so much and they said, "We learn about him in church." I thought surely they were mistaken, but no, it was just my naivety showing. So I decided to do some research and turned BHM into Jazz history month. We learned about all the great jazz musicians, how jazz began, etc. We listened to all the greats... Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, etc. I also did alot about where we are from, our traditions coming from our history, and what makes us unique. We read Momma Where are you from? and wrote our own poems. Then I had someone come in (he volunteered in my room alot and I eventually taught his granddaughter). He told the kids all about the Orangeburg Massacre (because he was there), shared pictures from their protests, explained what they did right and what they did wrong, talked about marching with Dr King and seeing him speak on the state house steps. It was amazing.

    Now, I am back in Va and teaching kindergarten. BHM is once again almost non existent. One of my standards is to teach MLK but I am struggling with it. You see, my students don't see color. They don't look at each other differently. Their parents don't bring it up and they have never been exposed to it. How do I teach it? I am struggling because I feel like if my students can view one another as equals and as people, without seeing color, then why should I point it out to them? Why should I expose them to how cruel some people can be? Could they continue to love one another as people if we didn't expose them to these things at such a young age? I don't know. I want to show them the greatness of these people (including MLK, bc they don't know who he is) without sharing the hatred... How do I do that???

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    1. Jessica,

      I think that the myth of colorblindness is one that we need to fight as educators, particularly as white educators. I can't speak with certainty, but I think it's fair to say that most children recognize outward differences such as skin color. At young ages, how they respond to those differences depend mostly on how those around them view it.

      Children that come from homes where the parents are openly racist or prejudicial will be those that you see negative responses to "otherness" first. Children that come from homes steeped in institutionalized racism, or apathy to it are those that won't show their understanding of "color" or what it means in our society until much later, perhaps not even until they are adults.

      But they will show it. We all do. Even myself, someone that considers themselves to be very focused on social justice and the eradication of institutionalized racism. I still fall victim to the media, to family, to the deeply rooted "otherness" that gets cultivated in our society.

      It's important for students, even those that don't yet act on the differences they see in skin color, to know that there are some people that do. We don't wait for a child to be bullied, abused, or neglected to tell them about the standard of care or their worth in life -- we are proactive. So to must we be proactive about fighting against "colorblindness."

      Absolutely, please, encourage your students to continue to see each other as equally worthy of all the things in life that we aspire to -- but even at their young age, make them aware that people will not always treat those that are different fairly, and it's our responsibility to speak up for our friends. It's our responsibility to make our world what we want it to be, not wait for judgment and hatred to rise up and say it's wrong.

      The how is not as easy... but you can start by sharing age-appropriate read-alouds that talk about how someone is made to feel on the outside -- and relate it to what your students already know about MLK. Tell them, honestly, that there are still people in the world that feel that way... and even more, there are people that quietly feel that way too. Talk about ways to stand up for each other -- highlight things they already do, and validate the sense of community that they've cultivated. Encourage it. Nurture it.

      Do not be afraid that acknowledging racism perpetuates it. It doesn't -- it extinguishes the biggest fuel to the flame: apathy.

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  10. I do love teaching about Ruby Bridges because my first graders are just the age she was when she had to be brave and go to that all white school. And I wonder if MLK should be our starting point in this educational journey. So it's hard to not teach the "usuals" in first grade, but I do see your point. I can look outside the norm for examples throughout the year.

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  11. I was just speaking with coworkers about BHM last week. We were also hoping to explore other influential African Americans that get overlooked. Thank you for your honesty and post!

    Best,
    Ashley

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  12. Wonderful post! I usually spend Black History Month having the kids studying famous black inventors. They love it!!! I make sure to include toy inventors which is a popular one! I do this with 1st and 2nd graders.
    -Lynn (campingteacher)

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  13. Great post! I've been ranting about this for years! Seems like all people know about African Americans is first we ran from slave masters, then the Ku Klux Klan, civil rights, then athletes!

    We have so many more great stories! Daniel Hale Williams who performed the first successful open heart surgery in the early part of the 20th century.
    The Moors, a great North African civilization who were black and conquered Spain, Portugal, Italy and brought many technical, educational and cultural advancements with them..just to name a few. These stories should not only be added to school curriculum but also brought to the big screen.

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  14. You make good arguments. We do biographies in January. We all do MLK together (Yes, I know...) so that they know how to do the research part of the report. Then I put the kids into groups of 4. Each group is assigned a person to research and report on. We tend to do people that are not normally studied such as Thomas Jefferson, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Benjamin Franklin, George Carver Washington, and Harriet Tubman (okay, so I had to throw that one in). It makes them really have to read and understand what contributions their person gave to the U.S. I also have a timeline in my room with important people in the US history and the date they were born. Makes for a good visual reference. (We throw Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin in because we are doing important people in the US history and our time is limited-we cover multiple topics with this! ;))

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  15. Thank you for sharing! I had never really thought about this much as a kinder teacher. (Just last week I had two identify Hiliary Clinton as MLK, 😂 we struggle a little in Room 108). I would love to switch up some of the people we study.

    As a matter of fact we do the same thing with all historical figures! I mean I still to this day can tell you all about Eli Whitney and that cotton gin but I am still not sure why I was taught that year after year! I am going to try to throw in some different historical figures for my kids (of all races). Thanks for inspiring me!

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