Black History Month in OLSD

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McKenna Christy

If you would like more detailed background on what Black History Month is we have an article covering that linked here

There is a lack of education of what Black History Month is and why people celebrate during the month of February. I’ve never been taught the true origins of Black History Month and I’m certain my peers are in the same situation. But this is no excuse to not learn now, which is why the Patriot Press and The Cannon hope to motivate others to seek a continuous education on Black culture and its history in the United States.  

“The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity” is the theme for this year’s Black History Month as decided by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The founder of the organization, Carter G. Woodson-who was an American Historian, author, and journalist, created themes in order to capture the country’s attention. In February of 1926, Woodson announced to the public a week of commemorating the history of Black culture. Woodson and the ASALH contributed educational resources to schools across the country so teachers would teach the subject. The themes are decided on the bases of changes “in how people of African descent have viewed themselves, the influence of social movements on racial ideologies, and the aspirations of the black community,” according to the ASALH. 

The Importance of Celebrating Black History Month this year (and every year)

Awakenings to injustices against Black Americans became inescapable this past and current year, but people attempted to ignore the police killings of Black Americans and how COVID-19 is disproportionately infecting them. Some may have tried to put it out of mind, but it can never remain out of sight. The past is always present. It’s always a matter of how we face it.

This is why it’s time for reflection over the side-eye’s given to the anti-Blackness at the heart of America’s response to the pandemic, in the justice system, and within our country’s collective culture. Reflection is usually a result of education, and we have the resources to learn and celebrate Black History Month, even if our school is just getting started this year. 

Traditionally, there hasn’t been an official celebration at Liberty, but at the beginning of the month, there was a call to have one. The district’s Diversity and Equity team created an educational resource guide for teachers and staff to follow throughout the month of February. Each day teachers can find a historical or present day lesson to teach about a person who challenges racism in the United States and uncover the myths that create stereotypes of Black Americans.

“This is the first year we really put together documents like this that have been very comprehensive with resources for K-12, and it’s something we’re going to continue to grow on, said Jacqueline Merkle, OLSD’s Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion. “Ultimately the goal is that they’re not just going to be used during these months but to integrate them throughout the entire [district]. It’s not just going to [during] one month, it’s going to be a part of the general experience.” 

The resource is widely accessible, but there’s concern regarding how many teachers put the tool to use. Merkle mentioned that although there the highest viewership of the resource was 359 views, she knows there are around 1600 teachers in the district. Merkle also recognized that teachers may have their own Black History Month knowledge or resources to educate their students with. 

This resource guide for educating students on the histories of different groups in the United States is one of three the Equity and Inclusion team created this year. In September and October, there was one for National Hispanic Heritage Month, another for National Native American/Indigenous Heritage Month in November, and now there’s one for Black History Month. A final resource guide will be available in May for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. 

“We wanted to make sure that every educator could see this document as useful for them. I think that there’s enough in there that people can find relevant and is grade level appropriate that can hit on the topics in a meaningful way… Our plan is to add to these documents each year and continue to push our resources out to our teachers,” Merkle expressed. 

Beyond the Equity and Inclusion team’s work, there are also groups at Liberty that see the importance of educating students on Black History Month’s significance. Celebrating Black History in school is more than what is taught in the classroom, although that remains extremely necessary. Liberty News Network and Diversity club have been teaming up “to do the daily announcements about the African Americans in history to educate students,” said Mrs. Heckman. 

The Diversity Club is also promoting the ONE Community Conference and this year’s read-in for the book “Ghost” by author Jason Reynolds. The inspiration behind the book was Liberty’s own, Matthew Carter ‘21, who will be speaking at the event. This conference is held annually and is coming up on its seventh year with the theme “Healing Through ONE Community.” The read-in will be on Feb. 22 and the district’s website has a registration form for those who would like to attend. The event begins at 6 p.m.. 

As this is how Liberty and the district plan to celebrate Black History Month and to extend the knowledge we have about different communities, there’s one school in the district that has been celebrating longer than the others. Olentangy Orange High school has an annual Black History Month Assembly that is created by the Black Empowerment Club LIFE and Face 2 Face Diversity Club. Henry Wiggins, a senior at Orange and president of the Black Empowerment Club shared that the assembly “showcases Black music, culture, and historical events.” This year, with the month’s theme being family, Wiggins also mentioned that the assembly will include showcasing a Black family celebrating Kwanzaa and stories of their history. And similar to Diversity Club’s using Liberty News Network to spread information regarding Black history, the Black Empowerment Club put trivia on their news. 

“Last year a few of our Black Empowerment members answered questions on the news in the form of Jeopardy, and this year the news reads Black History facts each week, and asks trivia questions which can be answered and turned in for a prize in our library,” said Wiggins. 

The Black Empowerment Club LIFE will be posting celebratory content on their instagram and their handle is @oohslife. The planning for celebration and learning during this month isn’t something done wide-spread throughout Liberty. Certain clubs at Liberty, such as Diversity Club, do promote Black History Month through creation of videos, bulletin boards, and during meetings. However, there is still more that can be done to have Black history “incorporated into classrooms through art, music, projects and more,” as suggested by Wiggins. 

The return of DearOLSD on Instagram

On Feb. 1, the Instagram account DearOLSD posted for the first time since the summer to ask students if they feel the district has taken action, that was requested of them by students, to create a more inclusive environment: one that doesn’t discriminate and appreciates the differences in cultures, races, sexual orientations, and identities. From looking at student responses to DearOLSD’s questions, some questioned the large absence of education and celebration of Black History Month. 

“Throughout all [of] my years [at] OLSD, we have never celebrated Black History Month, or in other cases, any month that celebrates diversity… The whole district needs to celebrate Black History Month completely, along with other months that are about race or identity,” said the owners of the account. 

  The owners also mentioned they’re aware that Diversity Club at Liberty holds an annual Multicultural Festival, but there’s still more to be done. Their return comes at a time when a lack of celebration for Black History Month in the district causes a reflection in the work done by the district to uphold the promises made over the summer to initiate anti-discrimiation actions for a change in culture.  

Black History Month is almost over, yet there should never be an official end to Americans educating themselves on Black history and culture. This is the first year for district recognition over national heritage months as seen through the resource guides created by the Equity and Inclusion team, but hopefully celebratory and educational tools will become tradition in the years to come.