To close this Black History Month, Scholastic Author Michele Myers shares tips for all year long to help diversify literacy curriculums, ways that families can get involved, and how to enhance advocacy efforts.
During the month of February, we celebrate the historic and contemporary Black Americans who made or are making rich contributions and accomplishments as liberators, freedom fighters, historians, mathematicians, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, athletes, inventors, scholars, politicians, and so much more. However, celebrating the accomplishments of Black Americans should not be restricted to one month. Our intentional efforts during this time provide students of all cultures, races, nationalities, and languages opportunities to deepen their knowledge and expand their perspectives of not only Black History but American History.
Below, I’m sharing ideas on how to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans in the classroom and beyond.
Diversify Your Curriculum Beyond the Surface Level
Think beyond the activities that focus on surface levels of culture such as exploring the food, folklore, fashion, festivals, or famous people. To help your students better understand the complexities of culture and human experiences, take a deeper dive and explore ideas such as the below to help you diversify your curriculum:
Encourage students to try the “I Am Me Project” to learn about themselves, their friends, and their friends’ families
- Students can work on an “I Am Me Project” by creating a tri-fold board or portfolio with images of special people, places, things, events, customs, traditions, and accomplishments that make them who they are. Older students can create a storyboard or a video presentation designed to share things that are important to them, such as their goals and aspirations, what and who they value, aspects of their family dynamics, cultural heritage, and traditions. Honoring the diverse representations of the students in our classes is important because it teaches them to value their unique selves and their interconnectedness with others in our classrooms and beyond.
Oral History Interviews
- Oral history is a well-established aspect of Black culture. Prior to enslavement, Africans had a rich written tradition. After enslavement, Africans were forbidden to read and write. Have students interview a family member about a topic you plan to teach. Students can record the interview and listen to it in class and use it as a springboard for writing. This helps them better understand the connection between oral and written language.
Learn about the Incredible People who Shaped Black History
- There are many influential Black Americans who were the first in their fields. Having students research these influential Black Americans, such as Carter G. Woodson or Fannie Lou Hammer, will only enrich their collective knowledge and encourage them to follow in their footsteps as young visionaries. Great resources that are available include the New York Public Library Digital Schomburg Collection and Miller Nash BlackPast pages.
Tips to Engage all Families in Celebrating Black History Month and Beyond
Families are key contributors to the socialization of their children. Children benefit greatly when what they are learning at school aligns with what they are learning at home. Ideas to do this include:
Family Book Clubs
- Have families read books by Black authors and provide opportunities for them to engage in discussions around the books. In this way, families can learn about and gain the perspectives of others who are different from them.
Host a Black Film Fest
- Invite families to watch movies highlighting Black history. Families can watch and celebrate Black History by watching specials and documentaries on programs such as this list from KERA TV.
Community Sponsored Black History Month Events
- There will be numerous events held in your communities. Make sure that families are made aware of these events through your newsletters, phone announcements, and social media platforms. Seeing you there will only send positive messages and help to build stronger relationships.
Support Black Businesses
- Encourage families to support locally, Black-owned businesses. By doing this, they contribute to the local economy which benefits their local communities.
Tips to Enhance Your Advocacy Efforts
As teachers, we must understand that there are policies, laws, and practices that disadvantage Black children, and we must work to disrupt those and replace them. We know that in a democracy, all members must be liberated, or no one is liberated. In your efforts to ensure this freedom, you must exercise agency. Here are some tips:
Critically examine your biases
- Take an honest and critical look at the deep-seated beliefs and biases you have about others who may be ethnically, racially, and culturally different than you. By working to educate yourself about those differences, you can dismantle those beliefs and biases that have the potential of oppressing others.
Advocate for Social Justice
- Take an active role by advocating for social justice. You can join local or national movements to ensure equitable outcomes are achieved.
- We must vote in local, state, and national elections because education is impacted by politics. Make sure your voice is heard.
Black History Month is American History. It is a time when we can celebrate the rich contributions that countless Black Americans have made. I challenge you to diversify your curriculum, involve your families, and advocate for social justice this month and every month.
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