Saturday, February 2, 2019

Black History, Black Children, White Children and Equity


As I begin to write this essay, it is 7:00 a.m. (CST) on a Saturday morning and I am scheduled to speak in a 3600 seat room at the National ESEA (Title I) Conference at 11:30 but before I do, I woke up with this topic burning on my mind and needed to share it with you immediately.

Today is February 2, 2019 – the 2nd day of Black History Month….my all time favorite month of the year because of the richness in history that it has to offer. I recall vividly (everyday) that for a ten-year period of my life, beginning in my freshman year of high school, I was on a trajectory of destruction. I hated school while having no career ambitions outside of the unrealistic goal of becoming a professional basketball player. I attended four high schools over a five year period and graduated with a 1.5 GPA. I subsequently enrolled in a junior college and stayed there for 5 years as a full time student (while seldom attending classes) and never graduated. Ten years wasted!

In 1984, I decided to give “life” a try and enrolled at Kean University in NJ. I had no major in mind – I just felt that I needed to be in a four-year institution, given the fact that my friends now had their undergraduate degrees with me having nothing to show for my wasted ten years. Making the decision to go to that school was the best thing that could have ever happened to me because as soon as I got there, I literally stumbled on Black history…on Day 1! It was like I tripped over it! I literally stumbled upon a book about the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X entitled, To Kill a Black Man and my life transformed before my own eyes and everyone’s eyes that knew me. I was so inspired that from that point, I read every book on Black History that was humanly possible to consume while carrying a full load at Kean University. I was immediately a 4.0 student and graduated from there Summa Cum Laude! What happened? In a nutshell, the Black history I was reading was the mechanism I needed to unleash the God-given potential that I had within me toward completely altering my trajectory. The academics of Kean became so easy for me because the history made me aware that I was much more than I previously thought I was. I have been riding that wave ever since.

When I think of American classrooms, which is literally a 24/7 thought, I think of my aforementioned story. I think of the role Black history played as a tool toward my growth, development and success. Well, it works the same way with children. Here, I want to focus on the Black child. When a Black child winds up in a classroom with a teacher who does not understand the “power” in Black history, that child is immediately placed at a deficit. Said differently, when a Black child winds up in a classroom with a teacher who isn’t knowledgeable of Black history, that child is immediately placed at a disadvantage. Black history has been one of America’s best kept secrets throughout the history of the country and the consequences of this deprivation of viable information are visible and well documented. Black history serves as a mirror for Black children. It tells them exactly who they are both historically and culturally. It tells them whose shoulders they stand upon and what their responsibilities and obligations are moving forward. It informs them of their greatness. It gives them a much more accurate view and picture of the world upon which they were born into and exist within. As a teacher, it is absolutely imperative then that throughout Black History Month and BEYOND, in an interdisciplinary fashion, you introduce your children to their history. Said differently, you introduce them to themselves.

This task is somewhat easier in America’s all-Black schools but all Black students do not attend all Black schools. But there’s an advantage here as well. White children and children of all other racial / ethnic backgrounds need to know the history of their Black peers too. Given the inundation of depictions of Black people in the media and pop culture, there has to be something to counteract this barrage of negative and destruction portrayals which in part formulate how the Black community in America is perceived worldwide. Well there is something….Black history and Black History Month for all of your students. Everyone benefits in this regard. The greatest challenge however is you the teacher. You have to be conversant in this subject matter. You have to be able to take you curriculum and “breathe Black history” into it across content areas. In other words, you have to make it relevant for all children.

Lastly, one of the biggest buzz words in education today is the word, equity. I use it daily. Equity is being fair (not equal) to all children. Equity is meeting children where they are. Well in the context of this essay, there is no equity when there is an absence or marginalization of Black history in the classroom. When this viable tool of the empowerment of your Black children is absent from the classroom, despite all of the strategies that have been implemented to bring about equity, the absence of Black history negates them all. Black history must be an inherent part of the existence of your classroom.

For additional reading, I thought I would provide a link to my suggested reading list for teachers of Black students which include some historical books that I recommend.

For further Principal Kafele resources, visit PrincipalKafele.com

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