Teaching, learning and celebrating Black History Month should be attributed to the hard work done by Dr. Carter G. Woodson who was disturbed to find that black Americans were ignored in history books.
Many teachers and parents around the world continue to carry the torch that Dr. Woodson lit when he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and later launched Negro History Week in 1926 paving the way for Black History Month.
During the month of February, it is common to enter the classroom of many schools in urban communities, with a predominantly black student body and staff, and hear lessons and stories about our ancestors being taught. While many are in agreement that black history should be celebrated everyday and not just once a month, teachers embrace this forgotten culture full throttle.
In Canton, MI teacher Vernesia Lawson who teaches in the Plymouth-Canton school district discuss with her students the same lessons that she was taught while in elementary school.
Before leaving Detroit, MI in her teens to attend John Glenn H.S. in Westland, MI, Ms. Lawson was one of many students who celebrated the history of blacks . Once she left her neighborhood of Northwest Detroit, she very seldom received assignments that involved reporting on Dr. Martin Luther King or Harriett Tubman. She and the handful of blacks at her school were subjected to learn their history on their own time.
She doesn’t fault the educators at schools in suburban American for not teaching their majority white students about the struggles of blacks in America, but as a teacher she has decided to do something about it.
Every February Ms. Lawson dedicates a week to the history of black culture and advancements. On day one, her students are taught the history of the continent of Africa, it’s climate, the resources found in Africa and Swahilii, a language used in Africa. Day two she continues the conversation of Africa but adds slavery to the discussion. She discusses the underground railroad and the importance of treating everyone equal. On day three she continues to discuss why it’s important to treat everyone the same as she begins to discuss racisim. On the fourth day, students are taught the many things that were invented by blacks that they use everyday such as pencil sharpeners and erasers. The week comes to a close on day 5 as they discuss “Black Firsts”. Students learn about brave trailblazers such as Bessie Coleman or George Washinton Carver.
Ms. Lawson wants her students to understand the importance of loving each other despite their differences. “We live in different areas, when the news comes on and people say im not surpise he was black, our children hear this,” states Ms. Lawson. She continues, “these are the first steps to teaching our children to be racists.”
Although she has never received any negative feedback from any parents or staff members, her week long lesson which is taught to an all white class was initially met with stares that she continues to ignore.
When asked what she wants her students to gain from what they are being taught, her reply is simple.
I want them to know that its okay to love another person who is a different color, we teach our children witout knowing that black and white is separate. I want my students to learn more than about DR. King. Yes he was a great man but there were other blacks who did great things also. Lastly, I want them to embrace my culture just as much embrace theirs.