Most assume if you are black, then you commemorate Black History Month. However, all of us should be vested in understanding the significance of the month.
As a child, I recall being unable to go to school during the infamous racially charged New York City teachers’ strike. Due to the longevity of the strike, families mobilized to provide education for their children in homes.
I remember standing outside one of those pristine homes clutching my wooden kindergarten chair which my dad had painted my favorite color: coral blue. My friends paraded past me weighted down with their chairs, snacks, and notebooks, and I knew something was amiss as my dad stood talking to the man at the door of the home.
As I leaned on my chair, occasionally, some of the parents happily greeted us, then, ever so gently, of course, using their forearms to push us aside, made their way into the vaulted honey-brown door. We were never admitted.
It was not my lack of entry that bothered me. Rather, it was my father’s reaction that has haunted me over the years.
After waiting what seemed like hours, although it was probably no more than ten minutes, my dad resolutely walked back to our Cadillac. In our seven-minute drive home, he tuned the radio to Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine and bid me to join him in the chorus, as he always did.
At that time, we did not discuss what had just happened, and it took me a while to understand my dad’s reticence to speak. But his silence did not give me the emotional space to understand my confusion, disappointment, and hurt.
Black History Month provides a great way to help all our children understand the importance of reaching out to those around us, some of whom may look different than us.
I’ve often wondered if my “other” friends asked about me that day. I wonder if the parents who greeted my Dad and me knew friendship meant more than a polite hello at that moment. Then sadly, I wonder how many times I have side-stepped others while pursuing my destination, for none of us is immune to preoccupation.
Black History Month reminds me to have an awareness beyond myself and my small circle of concerns. Importantly, it offers an opportunity to impart a desperately needed global perspective by incorporating the study of other cultures and people groups into our homeschool.
The integration process need not be difficult: we simply purposefully enlarge our perception of fine literature, meaningful history, or interesting science—disciplines which are typically rather regimented. Although homeschoolers pride ourselves on the maverick spirit, we still gravitate to the educational opinions of the pack, fearing that we may miss something. These dreaded and imaginary “gaps” keep some of us from courageously stepping out and taking chances.
Stepping aside from the crowd might have helped someone notice a confused little girl who just wanted to read her Dick and Jane reader with her friends that morning. That little girl longed to explain to her friends that Pam, Dick and Jane’s neighbor, was her favorite character, but she also knew they would never understand why she adored Pam.
As you probably already know, books are one of the best ways to introduce young people to different cultures. Stories told from the perspective of marginalized people provide a level of authenticity and richness that defies the skills of the best textbook writer. To that end, students should read genuine stories about or by people of African descent.
While a textbook may provide the cold hard data of slavery, firsthand narratives such as The Autobiography of Frederick Douglas, Twelve Years a Slave, or Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman will provide young people a depth of understanding beyond mere historical facts.
Don’t forget: besides African Americans, the rich African diaspora includes Caribbeans, Afro-Asians, Black Latinos, and African nationals. Generationally, many extended black families comprise ethnicities of all these people groups combined. Black literature rich in its core may draw on a mixture of all these heritages. Further, when choosing books, do not assume black history and/or literature begins with slavery in America. It does not!
Observing Black History Month can open doors of understanding that will bring attention to issues that do not necessarily affect us but may concern our neighbor. Raising children prepared for a global world means helping them recognize their neighbor may not look or speak like them.
Choosing just the right literature to impart this understanding does take a bit of time and effort. Next week I will share some books that may help you to celebrate in a meaningful way.
Cheryl Carter is a homeschooling mother, compulsive thinker, and prolific author who still believes she can change the world one family at a time. She also serves on the HSLDA Compassion Board and teaches writing to homeschool students. Visit familysuccess.org or homeschoolcollegeprep.org for further information.