by Diane Butts
The halls and classrooms of Friendship Southeast Academy are filled with energy. It's February - Black History Month - and there are many colorful and creative displays that reinforce their lessons ... all punctuated with delightful chatter between the little ones and their teachers.
On this day, kindergarteners and first graders are participating in a discussion about the importance of black history.
Their teacher, Lucy Williams-Price, is dressed as a senior citizen to mark the 100th day of school.
“Why is it important to learn about our history?” she asked.
Hands raised quickly and she called on them one by one.
“So we can celebrate the accomplishments and the people who’ve come before us.”
“That’s right,” she says. “If we don’t know where we came from then we won’t know where we’re going. When I was growing up there were many places I couldn’t go. Can you imagine that?”
“NO!” they answered in unison.
Mrs. Williams-Price along with school administrators shared why Black History Month remains an important part of the curriculum.
Ms. Williams-Price said, "they need to know that Benjamin Banneker helped design this city, that Catherine Johnson helped put a man on the moon using math, and that Ruby Bridges was the first black student to go to an all-white school.
"They need to know about the people who struggled to give them the rights they have, that people died for them, and that they need to keep that struggle going.
"They need to know we are worth a lot – more than people give us credit for - that we have a rich history, and that we are descended from kings and queens.”
Melissa Gomes, student support coordinator, agrees that black history is really important. "For our demographic where the majority of our student population is African American, they don’t always get exposure to our history, so our job as educators is to provide it, knowing where we came from, our struggles now, and how they can become a part of black history.
"There is no age too young so they have a better sense of self, identity, self-awareness, culture, and hopefully continue to put African American history in the forefront.”
Her favorite quote she says is, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Malcolm X
Denisha Davenport, guidance counselor, says, “A lot of us negate how important communication is and that it’s doing small bits of good every day. One of my favorite quotes is by Desmond Tutu … ‘do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good that put together overwhelm the world.’
"I want to educate and empower the kids to do good things for themselves and for the greater good of the community. Don’t do good things because you feel you’ll get a reward - we’re in this instant gratification climate now with social media with the thinking ‘I need to do these things for an effect.’
"Think about our black history pioneers and what they did to change the world. There was no social media; they talked to one another to make a change. And we as educators need to practice what we preach … be authentic and be honest. And, let's step out on faith and step into our discomfort to make change … it’s imperative.”
Principal David Lawery says, “Black History Month is so important to me because it’s a time dedicated to shining a light on our rich history and achievements, which are too often ignored during the rest of the year.
It also enlightens the community that we serve to recognize how powerful and impactful we are as a people.
Black history is not only informative, but fosters a unique pride among people of African descent.”
Carole Davis, school social worker, adds, “the resiliency of African American people down through history provides each of us with the hope and the proof that despite all we endure, we CAN and DO succeed!”
Dr. Charlie Johnson, school psychologist, says, "As a people, African-Americans share a rich and storied history that began thousands of years before the first slave ships docked on the shores of North America.
"Prior to our arrival and in the time since, our cultural contributions have significantly impacted the world. We owe it to present and future generations to continue chronicling and celebrating our stories.
Our lauded past will undoubtedly provide a solid foundation for exponential future growth.
Indeed, our history of accomplishments will serve as a template and springboard for multigenerational successes that will change the trajectory of civilization in ways that are presently unimaginable.”
And they all agree - black history is American history.