Authentic Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in the Classroom

Black History Month festivities can be packaged into paper packets of work or tightly-timed activities. Often teachers inadvertently send the message to young children that February is the time to cram rich, critically important information about our country’s past into a task list.

ways to celebrate black history month in the classroom

It is an excellent time to think differently about Black History Month and events celebrating this holiday, which dates back to 1926 when the Father of Black History, Carter G Woodson, began the Negro History Week (Clark, 2021).

Honor and recognize the struggle

While our usually honored heroes like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Dr. King, Rosa Parks have performed heroic acts in the face of incredible odds, they are also human beings with complex lives. They surely could not change the world alone. When children learn about the work and accomplishments of these Black national heroes, make sure that they know that they had supporters who lifted them up and worked right alongside them. Also, make sure that they understand that some of the people they had to fight against were living in their same town and that it took real effort, time, and organizing to work around and against intense hatred. This is important for several reasons.

First, it helps children understand that heroes do not appear out of nowhere; they are made from their families and communities.

Next, it helps children understand that adversity is part of life and can catch us at surprising times. We do our children a disservice if they think that adversity is something someone else has experienced. Finally, it plants important seeds that even children have the opportunity to be upstanders when adversity appears. They could be the next hero interrupter of injustice!

Recognize Blackness in our presence

White people may have the best of intentions and be working so hard to honor Black people’s contributions that they inadvertently ignore the experiences and feelings of Black students in their midst. I remember when my own son, who is Black, was dismissed by a well-intentioned White teacher while planning a Black History month event because he didn’t want to speak in front of a large majority white audience about Dr. Martin Luther King. What if the teacher had asked him what he would want to do to contribute to the ceremony. Maybe he would have liked to put up a painting, share a poem that could be handed out, or find another way to share his response to Dr. King’s work or his perspective as a Black boy in America or at school. Holding onto strict notions of how Black history should be celebrated and limiting ways of participation can potentially silence the voices we need to hear the most.

February AND March AND April…

As the innumerable Black people who have shaped the country and continue to make our world a better, more just place can tell you: they do not wait for February, the shortest month of the year, to work for improvement. Make sure that children understand that Black history month is a 12-month celebration.

Our teachers have held a few significant Black History Month events that have extended beyond February at my school. In one, they recorded the thoughts and images created by our Black students that connected to habits of work and learning. We could come back to these images during hybrid learning all year. Last year’s event had teachers and parents come together to get Black heroes from the local community Zoom into our classrooms so that students could hear from them about their career paths, their mentors and heroes, and straight-talk advice about education. Through the benefit of community networking, our teachers were able to bring in a former NFL player, a Facebook CEO, and local heroes like frontline workers in the community. Such heroes and role models are always available and can be called on whether they are part of Black History month or any other leadership work. Finally, by prioritizing authors of color and characters of color in literacy work or social studies curriculum, students can understand the importance of Black influences and contributions year-round.

Read more about this here: Black History Month Is Over. Now What? | Learning for Justice

Suppose our racial reckoning of the past few years has taught us anything. In that case, it’s that Blackness, black history, African-American history have great depth and millions upon millions of stories and that each one is worth being told and learned from.

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Clark, C. (2021, February 5). The Origins Of Black History Month. Retrieved from https://today.tamu.edu/2021/02/08/the-origins-of-black-history-month/

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