Celebrating Black History and Innovation Year-Round
Anitre Bell is a College Success Facilitator and Instructor at Community College of Beaver County
Black history extends far beyond a single month—and it should be taught as such. Posting a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. with a caption that reads “Happy Black History Month” is not a substitute for teaching a holistic curriculum that highlights Black history. We as instructors need to do more.
This Black History Month, forget everything you think should be taught or learned about Black history and re-teach yourself the values and milestones that Black people have achieved. Instead of teaching Black history from a perspective of oppression, teach it from a place of celebration and respect.
Building a Black history-focused curriculum
Examining your class’s curriculum and identifying the bridges and gaps in Black history is a start. Developing and implementing a diverse, rich curriculum that spans across all subject matters is important for students to understand the scope of Black history.
Looking at multiple perspectives in history is another excellent start. Exploring common preconceived notions about history and showing that there are always two sides to any given narrative not only piques student curiosity but also fosters new, multifaceted conversations.
Educators also need to be mindful of what they’re teaching about Black history—and how they’re teaching it. We must consciously avoid teaching Eurocentric views or reducing Black history purely to oppression and trauma. Black contributions to history are vast and wide and extend throughout every field.
Multicultural education at an institutional level
To help instructors teach Black history in their individual classes, institutions must show initiative to promote Black history at an institutional level. Many colleges and universities offer African American Studies courses already. But, incorporating elements from these curriculums across all fields should be a mandatory component in schools nationwide.
The Amistad Law in New Jersey is an example of how one state made a bold statement to ensure African American history is a part of the curriculum. The Amistad curriculum mandates that students learn about Black history as part of their curriculum. This helps students receive an intentional, authentic and inclusive learning experience.
Institutions must hire individuals to build this curriculum, provide training and embed the contributions of African Americans into Language Arts, Science, Math and other subjects. Black history should not be taught in isolation – rather, contributions by Black trailblazers across all subjects must be highlighted.
As educators, we must encourage our institutions to promote multicultural education in every subject. Our schools should provide education that helps Black students feel seen, represented and heard all year around. It can, and should, be done—because our society is in and of itself multicultural.
Join your community to celebrate Black joy and innovation
Slavery isn’t the only aspect of Black history. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks aren’t the only prominent figures in Black history. While we should not erase the trials and tribulations of Black history, we need to share the histories of other Black pioneers, trendsetters and leaders, too.
There are many resources for instructors to tap into with their local and global communities. Connect your class with a local Black-owned business. Explore work from Black artists in your area. Learn about Black innovators in every field across the globe. Uplift Black joy and success as an essential part of Black history—not as an afterthought.
Teaching Black history beyond February
As Black History Month comes to a close, don’t lose your momentum on teaching Black history. Instead, double down and ensure that you shed light on Black history in your curriculum throughout the school year.
Now, I invite you to consider: How will you be more purposeful in shedding that light and teaching Black history year-round?