It was on this day nine years ago that 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. After spending the evening relaxing and playing video games with his brothers, Martin ventured out to a convenient store to purchase some snacks. He would not make it home after Zimmerman deemed him a suspicious presence and proceeded to shoot him dead, later claiming self-defense. The fact that we live in a society in which the worth and humanity of a young Black man is so quickly eclipsed and negated by his dark skin is a source of Black suffering that is difficult to soothe. When the jury refused to convict Zimmerman for killing Martin, outrage followed and would catalyze the development of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2013. In the years that have elapsed since then, a growing number of people and organizations have become affiliated with the movement as Black people continue to be killed by law enforcement and vigilantes at disproportionate rates. As the movement expands, complex questions have emerged about what it means to assert that “Black Lives Matter” and to stand behind that claim in meaningful ways within our own spheres of influence.
As February and Black History Month draw to a close, educators’ opportunities to teach Black history will continue throughout the year. Below, a multiracial group of Facing History teachers from around the U.S. share their thoughts on Black History Month, weigh in on how they approach teaching Black history, and share some of their cherished classroom resources.
Topics: black history
Before film director Ryan Coogler brought audiences the Black Panther film franchise, there was another Black Panther that loomed large in American culture. Director Shaka King’s new film Judas and the Black Messiah depicts the rise and fall of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and the role of Black FBI informant William O’Neal in those events. The film’s title is a reference to the biblical story in which the apostle Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus, leading to his execution. In addition to providing a primer on a rich chapter in American history, the film raises a number of questions for the viewer surrounding the richness and limits of Black political agency in the United States.
Topics: black history
Though classroom instruction focused on media literacy has increased in recent years, that work is often focused on helping students differentiate fact from fiction. In the present news environment where we face an endless stream of questions surrounding the legitimacy of the information we encounter, helping students cultivate such skills is critical. It is crucial that we continue to probe the assumptions embedded in particular news sources, the goals that shape certain media representations, and question unthought mental models. But so too is there a chance to embrace media as something that can enlarge educators’ and students’ sense of what is true, what is possible, and who we can become in this nation and world.
Topics: black history
Bettina Love put the concept of “Black joy” on the map in the education space with her groundbreaking book We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. In it, she argues that students must not only learn about the suffering and oppression faced by Black people, but also about the resilience, creativity, and humanity of this community. There are many ways to incorporate Black joy into one’s teaching, and one approach that educators can consider is the rich world of afrofuturism.
This Black History Month and every month, there are a great many figures, moments, and concepts to highlight while teaching Black history in the classroom. But as information about possible material and approaches becomes more widely available, it can be difficult to pinpoint the best tools, strategies, and resources.
Below is a curated list of classroom resources and educator-facing workshops available from Facing History’s peer and partner organizations across the education space this month.
Facing History Cleveland recently offered a riveting professional development webinar to Ohio-based educators called “Standing on Their Shoulders: Unsung Women of the Civil Rights Movement.” There, Program Director Pamela Donaldson and Senior Program Associate Lisa Lefstein-Berusch provided educators with strategies and frameworks they can use to broaden students’ knowledge of the contributions Black women made to the movement, as well as deepen students’ understanding of specific strategies that have driven social change. And soon, educators around the country will have the chance to access this professional development opportunity. As we teach about histories of oppression—including the events of the Reconstruction and Jim Crow Eras—making space for stories of agency is critically important. At Facing History, we believe it’s vital that students not only learn how Black women have been acted upon by outside forces, but also how Black women have taken action to shape the world and their own lives.
As we begin Black History Month 2021, it is clear that we are living through extraordinary times. We have seen many landmark events in Black history over the last year ranging from the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement to the election of the first Black female Vice President of the United States. Determining how to structure reflection on these subjects in the classroom can be challenging, and one way to get started is to prioritize our own learning as educators.
Black History Month will soon begin and, after a history-making twelve months, we have an opportunity to expand our understanding of what Black history is and how we teach it in the classroom.
We believe at Facing History that Black history is American history and that all educators have the responsibility to teach it well all year. But in these times of rapid, profound change and always-on news cycles, it can be difficult to know where to start. The enhanced focus on Black history that accompanies Black History Month each February is an opportunity to commit or recommit to learning and teaching Black history and contemporary issues, regardless of one’s starting point as an educator.
As we delve deeper into the holiday season, many of us may find ourselves in the midst of contentious discussions. The events of 2020 have brought a host of challenging issues to the surface as we reach levels of political polarization not seen for decades. Irrespective of the many factors that got us here, one of the most important questions now is how do we have meaningful conversations in the midst of it? Especially in conversations with relatives and other loved ones—conversations in which establishing bonds of familiarity and shared history is often not required—what does it look like to reach across ideological chasms to engage in productive dialogue? Whether around the dinner table, in a place of worship, or over a virtual video chat, we need to hone these interpersonal skills if we are to move forward.