I am an elementary school librarian in an urban setting in Massachusetts. Through the work of creating a more representative and inclusive library collection for my students, I learned a lot about the politics of the publishing industry, the accepted institutional racism and purposeful exclusion of communities in books and that we should be outraged at the continued disenfranchisement of our children.
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Monday, February 2, 2015

Black History Month: History is Made Every Day

I think people often have two minds around celebrating Black History Month. Indeed the lives, discoveries, inventions, art, social/civil movements and other accomplishments of Black Americans should be celebrated and studied. On the other hand, why is it that we still need to set aside a month in order to focus on these accomplishments? There is a good reason, cultural hegemony prevails in popular culture, the publishing industry and in school curricula, which is why the spotlight is still a necessity...

However, I worry what is often presented to our children this month (and others) is a sanitized and static version of "Black History", where the actions of a few men and women during the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement prevail as the apotheosis of an entire culture. But, "Black History" is made everyday- our children need this information. Children of color's cultural relevancy did not dissipate post Jim Crow.  I often think back to a fourth grade student last year who told me the message an author is sending him when they put a character of color on the cover of a book is that it's "about history".  While historical contributions should be celebrated and taught, let's not diminish the countless men and women of color making history *NOW*?

One thing I like to share with my students is the following video. This video is specifically tailored to elementary school age children.

Video: How Black History Month Was Started

Understanding why this month long celebration came about is important to understanding why the month continues to exist. After viewing, lead children in discussion. Do they feel like the accomplishments of people of color are still suppressed? Who is most represented in history books, the art world, even fiction on the library shelves? Do they believe that in their lifetime Black History Month will no longer be necessary as Woodson had hoped?

As far as read-alouds go this month, I am a huge fan of biography for children. Often the life of an individual is a door to a larger understanding of social context of the time. Biographies are a great launching pad to further discussion, be sure to branch out beyond what you already know. It's okay to learn alongside your children. Grownups aren't always experts.

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