By: Laylah R., Teen Leadership Board Member
As a Black person, Black history month is both exciting and disappointing for me. I love the fact that Black people have a whole month dedicated to celebrating our success and acknowledging our impact on the United States. I love the fact that during this month especially, the Black community bands together to spread untaught facts and educational information to uplift Black history and Black voices. But I cannot celebrate this month without feeling utterly disappointed in the American education system. Schools across Colorado fail to teach comprehensive Black history and often do very little to recognize Black history month in the classroom.
I always go back to my elementary and middle school experiences, in which my school would put up the same posters that gave brief biography blurbs of the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. While I appreciated hearing their stories and reading about their contributions, the fact that they are some of the only black figures that students learn about in school is unacceptable.
I should not have heard about Malcolm X for the first time from a classmate of mine that was condemning the Black Panthers. I should not have learned that Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat years before Rosa Parks from a TikTok that was posted last week. I know I am not alone in my ignorance. Black students across the state and across the country are unaware of the hundreds of Black historical figures that shaped our country. Only teaching students about white historical figures strips black students of our heritage and perpetuates white supremacy. Education matters. Representation matters. Knowledge is power.
I am proud to say that steps are being taken right here in Denver to rectify this issue. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College (DMLK) students ( Black girls, might I add!) went to the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board and demanded education reform. Backed by their principal, Zyeria Johnson, Kaliah Yizar, Alana Mitchell, Angel Amankwaah, Jenelle Nangah, Tyisha Hall, and Dahni Austin called on DMLK and other Denver schools to incorporate comprehensive Black history into their curriculum. As of September 2020, the Board of Education announced that the “Know Justice, Know Peace Resolution” will be implemented in DPS.
This is just the first step. The issue of white-centric education does not only apply to Black students. We need to learn about Indigenous history, Asian history, Latinx history, Middle Eastern history, LGBTQ+ history, and every other type of racial and ethnic history. Representation is one of the greatest gifts that a BIPOC child can receive, and the American education system has no right to deprive us of that gift. We can all make a difference by writing to our school boards, calling our local legislators, and making noise about the issue. We can all be the someone that paves the way to students getting the education they deserve.
Girls Inc. of Metro Denver provides research-based programs that encourage girls to use their voice and address issues that matter to them. Support programs like the Teen Leadership Board and the newly established Leadership Out Loud Advocacy intensive.