Every February, Berkeley High School (BHS) plans events and gatherings to celebrate Black History Month. Due to the ongoing pandemic, in-person gatherings are not an option this year, adding an extra challenge to honoring Black History Month. Although less events are able to take place, it’s important that our community still puts in the effort to honor this month. In order to do so, staff must incorporate Black history into their classes as much as possible, and students must educate themselves on their own, outside of school.
Staff should be taking this opportunity to make sure that regardless of the subject, Black History Month is being honored and celebrated in their class. Subjects such as history or English are easier to incorporate Black history into than others, such as science or math. However, some BHS teachers are finding ways to make it work.
For example, Sakura Przygoda, a Math 2 teacher in Academic Choice (AC), found a way to incorporate Black stories into her curriculum. Currently her class is studying ratios and statistics, so Przygoda had the students finding the percentage of Black citizens who were pulled over by the police compared to the total number of Black citizens in 2017, and then compared that to that of white people. In addition, she included a short three minute video about the criminal justice system in the US in her class. This is one excellent way to engage students and open up space for them to discuss their experiences and thoughts.
Another way to celebrate Black History Month is by honoring the contributions that Black people have made throughout history. Alan Miller, a member of the African American Studies department staff and an English teacher in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), described what he wanted to see teachers doing. “In classrooms, teachers should allow room to acknowledge the achievements of African Americans,” he said. “We should be convening ways for students to share their experiences, to learn about their history — that includes literary — and we should expand the boundaries of the classroom by encouraging students to take advantage of the activities offered in the larger community.”
In order to ensure that Black history is being acknowledged and celebrated in the BHS community, teachers must do their part to incorporate ideas into their curriculum that feature not only the struggle, but also the accomplishments, of African American people.
However, students have a responsibility too – there is so much to learn about Black history that we may not find in the classroom. Students need to take time this month – if not every month – to learn more about the achievements and contributions that Black people have made and continue to make in our community and society.
Going to virtual events such as the Oakland Public Library Poetry Celebration or the BUSD sponsored music program led by local artist Faye Carol is another way to support and celebrate Black History Month. Additionally, watching documentaries, reading books, and having discussions with family and friends are all other ways to engage with Black history this month. It is also important that both students and staff support Black-owned businesses and restaurants.
This year, Black History Month is not being as recognized and celebrated as has been in years past. However, we as the BHS community can change that by incorporating it into our curriculum as well as our everyday lives outside of school. “Knowledge of Black achievements helps build self-esteem and agency,” said Miller. We all need that as part of our lives, and it is up to us both as individuals and a group to bring it to life.