The events that have occurred over the past year have broken and reshaped the lives of people all over the world. It is true that being in a state of quarantine & experiencing a global pandemic has changed the lives of many, but I speak of one series of events that have been brought to light this past year: The Black Lives Matter Movement.
This movement served as a falling line of dominos, each domino falling with a louder shatter than the last. Institutional racism was brought to light and companies were held accountable. As I watched the dominos fall each day, I began to question why the Black Lives Matter movement had been a movement for years, but people were just now starting to take issues affecting Black people seriously. People everywhere for once in their lives were forced to take a step back and educate themselves on issues that they once turned a blind eye to because those issues never affected them.
I can proudly say that the Black Lives Matter Movement in all of its glory has been one of the best things that have happened in my lifetime, but when thinking about the movement and where we stand now as a society, I cannot help but ask myself “Is that all?”
I am a firm believer in education. I think the gift of learning is one of the purest gifts a new mind could ever receive. I am also a firm believer in the fact that where we are now will not be where we will be in the future. Though there has been a great deal of change, I expect that the future generation will do ten times more. I expect that they will stand united to educate people of all backgrounds and to ensure that even the most marginalized voices now will never be overlooked again. Unfortunately, I cannot see that happening without there being a change in our education system.
Being a little Black girl at a time before this movement, I loved having representation (as I imagine all little Black girls did at such a time). Seeing a Black princess on the television or seeing a Black woman in the spotlight made my heart glow in ways that I could not even begin to explain. It felt good to look up and see someone who looked like me, doing her thing in all her glory. I loved representation.
I also loved school. I loved walking into class in the morning having no idea about something and walking out knowing all about it.
Black History Month was the combination of my two favorite things: learning and Black female representation. Unfortunately, the thrilling idea of what the month could hold faded faster than it arrived. Black History Month became a never-ending cycle that I hoped would end as soon as it begun, and here is why:
In first grade, I learned about Martin Luther King Jr. A man who stood up for what he believed in, he is the face of Black History Month for many people.
In second grade I was introduced to Rosa Parks, who I would later find out was the token Black woman when it comes to women’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.
In third grade, it was back to Martin Luther King Jr. Then Rosa Parks again the next year. Sometimes Malcolm X or Harriet Tubman were thrown in, just for good measure. Every single year the very thought of Black History Month would cause me to draw a blank stare because I would sit there learning about the same people I had learned about since first grade. I would often ask myself: “Is this it? Where am I in history? Where are the other women who look like me?”
I would watch as my peers and teachers would talk about these people and their achievements for a month, then quickly shut that chapter of our curriculum, almost as if February 28th of every year served as an expiration date for teaching kids about Black History.
I do not say this to undermine the achievements of influential Black people such as Rosa Parks, MLK, or Malcolm X. I say this to emphasize the fact that Black History month should not be based solely on the achievements of a handful of Black people.
The lack of diversity amongst the individuals that schools choose to highlight and focus on during Black History Month just shows the serious lack of knowledge that the public school system has about Black history. It is almost as if many educators could not even be bothered to dive in a little bit deeper into Black history to educate the younger generation about more Black people who stood up in the face of adversity.
As someone who used to be that young Black girl desperate for Black female representation, I can say without a doubt that just Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman are not enough. The works of only two amazing and strong Black women are not enough to be the face of a month dedicated to an entire community. I wish that instead of going around in circles focusing on people that we already know, educators would introduce people that we haven’t seen in enough light.
Children should be learning about women like Shirley Chisholm who broke barriers as the first Black woman to be elected to congress in 1968 for the 12th district in New York. Women like Stacy Abrams who is quite literally the epitome of the true selflessness of a Black woman, even in the face of a huge loss. Women like Gloria Richardson, a candid and fearless woman who is a model example of a force that cannot be shaken. Women like Viola Davis, the first Black woman to ever win an Emmy for lead actress in a drama and a powerful voice for Black women in Hollywood. I think I speak for a majority of young Black women when I say that my childhood might have been a bit different if I had those women as role models.
As we all celebrate Black History Month this year, I encourage all of us to take time to step back and ponder on the events that have occurred this past summer. I encourage people of all backgrounds, races, and demographics to acknowledge the growth that we have had and the points in our lives where we still have room for growth. The well that is education never expires or dries up; there is always room to learn more.
I hope that during this month (and after it’s over) we will stray away from only focusing on the “token Black activists.” I hope that we will educate ourselves on Black activists (male and female) whose efforts are overlooked and ignored. I also hope that educators will see this month as a new slate to give out new knowledge, not the knowledge of people and things that we already know about. The fate of our future lies in the hands of our youth.
As Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”