Growing up in Berkeley, public elementary and middle schools provided many valuable experiences along with a quality education, but there are some areas that could be improved to broaden the scope and perspective of Berkeley students before they reach high school. One of these areas is Black History Month.
After nationwide campaigns and countless hours of dedication, February was federally distinguished as Black History Month for the entirety of the United States of America. Many associate Black History Month exclusively with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., thereby conveniently ignoring the multitude of other important and relevant African Americans throughout history. To celebrate Black History Month is to celebrate all of African American history, acknowledging, emphasizing, and educating about the triumphs and achievements of African Americans in the face of extreme adversity, discrimination, and institutionalized racism. By simplifying the celebration to only honoring King, people in power are ignoring and devaluing the countless contributions of other African Americans. While this is overwhelmingly unintentional, it is still unacceptable and inexcusable.
At Berkeley High School (BHS), Black History Month has been celebrated and recognized in several ways over the years, including assemblies, speaker series, talent shows, Black college expositions, and art installations. BHS is an excellent example of how to effectively and comprehensively honor and educate during Black History Month, and the rest of the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) should see BHS as an example.
Another valuable resource available for BUSD is the University of California Berkeley. African American professors and students would be great inspirations and excellent role models for younger students, especially considering that only 36 percent of African American young adults are enrolled in college.
Young children lose focus and interest very easily, so having a wide variety of celebrations and celebrants of Black History Month is a beneficial way to make sure kids are gaining knowledge intuitively instead of hearing the same few facts about the Civil Rights Movement over and over again. When executed incorrectly, teachers unintentionally reduce the rich and complex history of the African Diaspora to a few events and people.
In addition to teaching younger students about the Civil Rights Movement, we should be teaching them about other important events and movements including the Harlem Renaissance, current Black activists and leaders, famous Black artists such as Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, and modern figures such as Serena Williams, Alvin Ailey, and Jay Z.
The purpose of Black History Month is to uplift and recognize African Americans, their feats throughout history, and their resiliency. While BUSD does a good job of effectively communicating these things during Black History Month, there is still room for improvement, especially in elementary schools.