Updated: Feb 1
Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams
School Leadership for Social Justice
January 30, 2022
Tomorrow begins the 28-day period first conceptualized by Carter G. Woodson in 1915 that is now known as Black History Month in America. You're planning to celebrate, right? I sure hope so. Here are six things to consider as we near February 1 as you think about how to celebrate BHM in your school, district, or organization:
1. Black History Month should be celebrated and recognized everywhere. It should be recognized and celebrated in schools and organizations that have Black students and/or staff. And, Black History Month should also be celebrated in every school even if there are no Black students or staff. You see, Black History Month is not just for Black people. You see, Black History is American history. Black people know their/our history; non-Black people don’t. So, Black History Month is a time for non-Black people to broaden their perspectives and knowledge. And, for Black students and staff, Black History Month is an opportunity for non-Black teachers, leaders, and peers to affirm that they are seen, heard, and valued in the community. Black History month has different purposes for different people, but it is valuable for all.
2. Black History Month should be a time of celebration and joy. When many people think about Black history, they immediately default to slavery. As a society, we have been conditioned to see Black people from a deficit perspective and through the lens of suffering and oppression. While it is true that the experiences of Black people in America have been fraught with injustice, suffering, and oppression - including slavery, there is so much more to the Black experience than suffering, tragedy, and oppression. During this time set aside to remember and honor the history of Blacks in America, go beyond slavery and Jim Crow. These critical points in history are absolutely important - and in today’s sociopolitical context, knowledge of this truth is essential - but that’s not ALL to Black history. From ancient kingdoms and royal civilizations to present achievement and success, there is a depth and breadth to Black history that is not often reflected in how we approach Black History Month. This year, go beyond struggle. Show Black smiles. Share Black achievement. Even through struggle, we are a joyful people.
3. Black History Month should amplify Black voices and Black perspectives. There are times we lead, times we learn, times we lean in, and times that we simply listen. For non-Black people, Black History Month should be a time to learn, lean in, and listen. Learn about the depth of Black history. Learn what wasn’t taught in school. 1619, Stamped from the Beginning, and How the Word is Passed are excellent resources by Black scholars and writers for learning the richness and truth of Blackness in America. Lean in to the discomfort that you may experience as you commit to this new learning. Lean in to the oft-ignored perspectives and narratives of Blacks in America. Finally, listen to the words and stories of and hear the genius of Black women, men, and children - including those in your school, district, or organization. And if no one else is leading the work of celebrating and honoring Black history, you lead it. You don’t have to be Black to be learn nor to lead the learning for others. Dig in for yourself and learn from Black people about Black people. Then lead the same learning for others. A word of caution, though: If you are not Black, be sure that your efforts center Blackness, Black voices, and Black perspectives.
4. Black History Month should reflect the totality of Blackness and the contributions of the countless Blacks in America. Yes, there are some amazing Black musicians. But we are more than Beyonce. Yes, there are some amazing Black politicians. But we are more than Barack Obama. Yes, there were some amazing civil rights leaders. But we are more than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, we have amazing food. But we are more than collard greens and fried chicken. As you think of Black Americans to highlight and celebrate during Black History Month, dig deeper. John Lewis. Angela Davis. Etta James. Shirley Chisholm. Benjamin Banneker. Mae Jemison. The Gullah. As you make your list of people and things to highlight, ask yourself, “Who else?” “What else?” Go deeper.
5. Black History Month should not end February 28. The history of Black people in America is rich, complex, and the contributions of Black people in America extend to every part of society. Education. Law. The arts. Science. Civics. Religion. If you can name it, there was a Black person who contributed to it. The depth and breadth of the Black experience and the history of Blacks in America simply cannot be contained in 28 days. Go beyond February 28. Don’t let the learning stop with the calendar.
6. Black History Month learning should lead to action. Learning is great, but action is the goal. What practical application of learning will happen in your school, district, or organization now? Support Black businesses. Patronize Black professionals, like doctors, dentists, lawyers, and accountants. Buy and read works by Black authors. Contribute to campaigns of Black candidates. Support justice-oriented organizations. Vote for elected officials who will advance justice and equity. Make a donation to Historically Black College or University (HBCU). But don't just learn. Do something.
Black History Month is special. Very special. It's special to me. It's special to my mom. It was special to my grandmother. It is special to so many Black people. This is an opportunity for you to honor and elevate Blackness, to bring awareness to the depth and complexity of Blackness in America, and to amplify the countless contributions of Black people in America, past and present. Take advantage of the opportunity.
Questions to guide your planning and preparation for BHM:
Why are we celebrating Black History Month in our school or organization? What do we hope to accomplish?
What do we have planned for Black History Month? Does this plan consider the full range of the history of Blacks in America? Does it embrace the truth of Black struggle while also highlighting Black excellence and joy? What is our focus and progression for each day or week or for the full month? Are we doing our very best to honor the month with excellence?
Who in our school, district, or organization can contribute their voice and/or lived experiences to our Black History Month celebration or who can we consult to ensure that we are planning in a way that truly honors the intent of Black History Month?
What is our commitment to continued learning? How can we create and sustain opportunities to honor the contributions and stories of Black people in America all year long?
Resources for learning & planning
Be sure you’re following SLSJ on social media so you don’t miss Black Magic: 28 Days of Truth, Healing, and Celebration!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams has a 20-year career in early childhood and PK-8 education and is committed to achieving educational excellence and equity for all students - especially Black students who have historically been underserved in education. She has served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in private, public charter, and traditional public schools. Sharla earned her doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University, where she researched the role of the school leader in closing the opportunity-achievement gap.
As co-founder and partner of SLSJ (School Leadership for Social Justice), Sharla works with her partner in equity and justice, Dr. Toni Harrison-Kelly, where their work is focused on equipping educators to teach and lead for excellence and equity and helping everyone everywhere find their place in achieving a just and equitable society.
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