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Editorial - Black History Month: Knowledge is imperative to creating inclusive society

 

Black History Month, which celebrates achievements and contributions of African-Americans in our nation's history, is commemorated around the country every February since President Gerald Ford made it official in 1976.

Carter G. Woodson, known as the "father of black history," created the precursor to Black History Month, "Negro History Week," in Washington, D.C., in February 1926. Woodson felt strongly that knowledge of the contributions and history of African-Americans was essential for social change.

This is still true 90-plus years later.

"It is critical for us as educators to provide students with a broad perspective of the world, which includes those of individuals and movements honored during Black History Month," PUSD Superintendent David Haglund said.

Haglund said students are introduced to a diverse array of literature that exposes them to "experiences and perspectives of significant events and issues both past and present," such as segregation and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Our educators lead students in critical discussions, which allow young people to reflect on these experiences and not only understand how these events have shaped the world today, but how they can go on to act, engage, and influence it," he added.

Kelly Lack, a fifth-grade teacher at Fairlands Elementary School, created an "African-American Living History Museum," where students were able to step into the shoes of the person they were portraying. Students learned of the prejudice and obstacles those prominent African-Americans had to overcome, which Lack said establishes an "immediate empathy."

"In most schools, Black History Month is synonymous with February. It's a time when schools put an emphasis on teaching K-12 students about African-American culture and history," said Phillip McLeod, chairman of the Diablo Black Men's Group (DBMG). "In my opinion, the teaching of African-American culture and history should be an integral part of the K-12 school curriculum all year."

The DBMG was founded in the late 1990s by area black men with differing backgrounds who found commonality in shared experiences. The mission of the members is to "leave a positive imprint in a world where they still struggle for respect and unbiased acceptance themselves." What started as more of a social group has become a service organization.

"One of DBMG's focuses is providing scholarships to college-bound African-American male students graduating from high schools in Alameda and Contra Costa counties," McLeod said. "We view the scholarship program as a vehicle for developing the next generation of African-Americans who will make future contributions to our country."

Seeing African-Americans currently contributing to society as elected officials sends a positive message to young people. While there have been many African-Americans elected to serve at the local, state and national level -- most notably former President Barack Obama -- there have been few African-American elected officials in the Tri-Valley over the past decade.

This puts Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley in a unique position to affect change.

"I am honored to serve my constituents in the Tri-Valley and as an African-American elected official, I am proud to support policies that would promote all communities," Miley said. "I bring my cultural heritage to the position to encourage more inclusion, diversity, leadership and public service in the office."

Several local opportunities exist to increase your knowledge of black history, including visiting the "Black and White in Black and White: Images of Dignity, Hope and Diversity in America" exhibit that runs through March 18 at Museum on Main. The exhibit is comprised of photographs taken during the early 1900s "New Negro Movement," which promoted a renewed sense of racial pride and called for an end of Jim Crow racial segregation.

We agree that knowledge is a catalyst for social change. Being aware of the past and those who influenced it is imperative to understanding the present and bringing a future of equity and inclusion.

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