By: Kathryn Robinson, National Director of Practitioner Development
February is African American History Month, thanks in large part to the vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian who wanted to raise society’s awareness about the historical and cultural contributions of African Americans. To do so, Woodson created Negro History Week in 1925, with the event’s first celebration occurring in 1926. This week was to serve as the chance for students to demonstrate their learnings from a year-round study of African American and African history. In 1976, President Gerald Ford expanded this celebration into a full month. While the study of African American history is important year-round, this month serves as a time when African American accomplishments, which might otherwise be overlooked, are highlighted in communities and classrooms throughout the country.
In many schools, one might find a number of activities and initiatives to celebrate this month: African American history programs, bulletin boards highlighting facts about African American contributions to society, and research paper assignments on African American leaders. For City Year AmeriCorps members looking to support their school communities in developing a deeper appreciation and awareness of African Americans who have made a difference, here are a couple of suggestions:
Familiarize yourself with outstanding African American authors and books that can either be used with students during tutoring sessions or shared with them for their independent reading. If you don’t know where to look, check out The Brown Bookshelf. It hosts a great, month-long initiative that features the best in picture books, middle grade and young adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans. We also recommend checking out 11-year-old Marley Dias’ #1000blackgirlbooks movement.
Work with your school partners to identify age appropriate online primary source documents for use with students. The African American History Month government website has tons of curated content provided by government institutions such as The Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. What better way to bring an assembly, bulletin board, or lesson alive for students than with the actual images and recordings from the time period under study?
In helping school communities celebrate African American History Month, we celebrate the City Year value of Ubuntu: I am a person through other people; my humanity is tied to yours. Providing opportunities for school communities to reflect on the accomplishments of the diverse people who make up this country, especially ones that have been historically marginalized and oppressed, by engaging in dialogue about and interacting with their history and culture, fosters a positive school culture and climate that demonstrates understanding and appreciation for the histories and the personhood of all.