Let’s Aim for Depth this Black History Month

Robyn G. Phillips, Urban Assembly Deputy Director of Postsecondary Access

(Originally written February 2020)

In graduate school, I studied racial identity theory, and while conducting a study with Black football players, I asked what they learned about Black history. After a long pause, they said, “We learn that we were slaves, we got freed, then MLK gave a speech, and now we’re here.” Most of them admitted that what they discovered about their history was learned in college (in a Black History class).

Robyn German Phillips, Deputy Director of Postsecondary Access

This understanding of Black history is how white supremacy culture finds its way into every aspect of life, including and especially during Black History Month. The way it shows up is varied but is mostly centered around the comfort level of the majority to engage with content that does not reflect on them positively. It happens when historical figures get separated into good and evil, like Martin vs. Malcolm, or when Nat Turner is a footnote, and Fannie Lou Hamer becomes just a name of a school in Harlem. It happens when we read the perspectives of Langston, but don’t spend much time with Baldwin. And it happens when we only focus on famous figures like those I just mentioned and negate to mention Fanny Jackson Coppin, an African-American educator who was the first Black woman to become a School Principal and Superintendent in our country. Without her contribution, we may not have great leaders of color in our UA schools today.

With the limited time we have in February for this content, my challenge for all of us is to go deeper and genuinely discover and unpack the many accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans. Black History is everyone’s history. And focusing on it, infusing it into our curriculum, is how we begin to dismantle the white supremacy culture that lives in the blueprint of our education system.

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The Urban Assembly

A network of schools committed to advancing students’ economic and social mobility by improving public education.