Ever wonder why Black History Month is in February? In 1926, historian and journalist Carter G. Woodson started "Negro History Week" to focus on black history and culture, which was left out of school curricula. Initially celebrated each year during the second week of the second month, the thirst to study black history grew so strong that eventually the holiday expanded to the entire month. Keep reading to learn more facts like these to teach your kids.
February gives us a reason to focus on black history, but it's crucial to teach kids that the subject is worth revisiting throughout the entire year. Whether it's watching documentaries, visiting museums or reading literature by black authors, you can participate while encouraging understanding and tolerance. Make black history (the shared history of all Americans) appealing and fun so that your child continues a cycle of awareness and positive future changes.
Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, but the first slave ship arrived in Virginia in 1619. American history and black history can never be separated from each other. Through forced labor, our nation's economy was founded on the tobacco and cotton industries, and our honor was defended by black and white soldiers. The shared history of our country connects all of us, but was especially unkind to some.
You want your children to be free thinkers, so that means teaching them how to investigate for themselves. Explain (and model) to your kids how to research this Black History Month. Go to the library to read African-American literature, or ask people of color about their heritage. The internet is a great tool for information, but teach them there are many more resources available. Not only will they gain knowledge, they'll also learn perspective to become well-balanced adults.
As much as you want to shield your kids from ugly truths during Black History Month, you won't do them any favors by keeping information from them. The truth is, our country's history isn't a fairy tale (try finding a country whose history is), but that knowledge is how we've achieved the progress we've made so far. The sooner they know the true events of the past, the better they'll understand the injustices today and be more likely to change the future.
Throughout much of American history, there's been an effort to stifle black voices, such as anti-literacy laws passed in the 1800s to outlaw education for slaves. While some cultures have had centuries to collect and curate their culture, segregation for the descendants of slaves only ended 54 years ago. In that time, African-Americans have created a culture that isn't entirely African or American, but somehow both!
At one point in American history, Jim Crow laws were set in place to treat black people as "separate by equal" to how white people were treated. In everyday facets of life, like eating in restaurants or using a public bathroom, blacks were shunned from using the same facilities as whites. Most of the time, designated areas for black people were poorly kept. These injustices can't ever be undone, but they can be taught so they're never repeated.
During slavery, little to no official documentation was kept on an individual black person's identity. At that time, African-Americans were treated like animals, with families split apart like puppies from their mother (who, incidentally, was torn from her homeland, as well). Because of this, it's extremely hard for black people today to trace their origins of ancestry back to specific countries and regions the way people from other ethnicities may be able to.
Great black leaders are more than that—they're world leaders. Figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X traveled to many places to be inspired by other people and cultures. In turn, people know their names all over the world and feel the change they set in motion during their lifetimes. During Black History Month, teach your kids that leaders come in different shades, but their ethnicity does not limit their reach.
A relatively young form of art, hip-hop began in the '70s as a way for kids in the poorest South Bronx, N.Y., housing projects to rhyme over danceable beats. Then came storytelling with clever lyrics, followed by sub-genres of hip-hop. Now pop music is heavily influenced by the genre, with rappers winning Grammys (we see you, Jay-Z). Once you understand that hip-hop was created by minorities to dance away the reality of oppression, you can begin to understand its power and share that with your children.
If you've ever tasted peanut butter, watched "Cosmos" on Netflix or stopped at a stoplight, then you've been affected by a black scientist. Better-known scientists like George Washington Carver and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are names you've likely heard, but there are many more, including countless contributors to the country's most important scientific discoveries (like biologist Ernest Everett Just). Share that little-known fact with your children this Black History Month.
Some people have said that racism doesn't exist anymore. Whoever says that may not realize what racism is, because it is still happening across the United States even today. This Black History Month, take time to explain to your little ones that, at its core, racism is treating people differently based on their ethnicity. Then, show them how racism can be overcome when we treat each person as a valued individual and not merely as a member of a group.
We may think the topic of slavery is too big for little ears, but part of our job as parents is teaching our children between right and wrong, especially when it comes to learning from history's mistakes. Depending on age, approach the conversation with the simplest possible terms, explaining what empathy for fellow humans is and that people cannot be property. Children can digest more information than we give them credit for.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, before the end of Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement was revolutionary for African-Americans. Wanting to be fairly protected by the law and treated the same as their white counterparts, black people instigated change that reshaped our nation during the 1950s and '60s. Use every day of February to share a different civil rights fact with your family to get the most out of Black History Month.
The Black Panthers were militant in their appearance and structure, but the drive behind them was an "undying love for the people." As a response to police brutality, the Panthers wanted to protect their neighborhoods, encourage unity from within the black community and be treated the same as white people. They passed out free breakfasts to children in inner-city neighborhoods, outlined a 10-point program demanding equality and followed the teachings of MLK Jr.
Rosa Parks, Oprah, Beyoncé: The list gets impressive when you start talking about influential black women in American history. As a doubly oppressed group, black women are required to work harder than most just to be on the same playing field. The good news is, everybody benefits when black women win. Check the scoreboard. Educate your child on the power and strength of black women, so one day the playing field can be leveled.
There are African-Americans that moved from Africa to become American citizens, and there are African-Americans who were born here as descendants of slaves. Similar to Dreamers, American-born black people don't know any other home, but are connected to their African ancestors through history. Events in Africa (like apartheid) seem to mirror U.S. injustices (like Jim Crow laws), but both cultures stand to learn from one another.
Outside of the African-American community, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) may not be on the radar of those who aren't people of color. To black people, these have been nurturing, educational campuses for young adults that boast curricula full of black history, house the Divine 9 black Greek organizations and have birthed the minds of countless people you've heard of, including Thurgood Marshall, Samuel L. Jackson and Lionel Richie, making them breeding grounds for African-American greatness.
There is a reason why companies with greater diversity are likely to make more money than mono-ethnic businesses. Mixing up perspectives allows people to get away from uni-group thinking and collaborate with minds that think in different directions as a result of various life experiences. Diversity may be one of the biggest lessons to teach for Black History Month so that your kids can understand the value of people who think, act and sometimes look differently.
It's so easy to stereotype others based off the group our brain assigns to them, which makes it crucial to check ourselves before reacting off an assumption. This Black History Month, show your family how to give every person a chance based on their personal story and reputation. Meeting a new person should be like watching an artist paint a blank canvas. You just need to let them show you the picture (and themselves) before you start guessing.
When pulling up memories from our nation's past, the word "oppression" may come up. It means to heavily weigh on the mind, body and spirit by use of authority, like how segregation laws diminished the experience of African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. Thoroughly discuss this word with your kids, making sure they understand its context. If we're to steer away from ever being oppressed (or oppressing) again, we must first clearly see where it exists.
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