I can remember being a Kindergartner in the public school system and being taught many things for the first time and learning the very basics of what would eventually be my “education.” I remember Dick and Jane and Tom and all of the other characters my teachers used to give during our lessons in order to provide a context, but in retrospect none of those characters looked anything like me. I remember early on in my education I was excited about learning and about the possibilities that all of this information provided my life, yet I could never pinpoint how I fit into any of it. I never understood how my life and the realities that I knew outside of the classroom connected to the information I was given. I knew that for some reason I related to Martin Luther King Jr. but back then I didn’t know why.
Throughout my “education” I began to slip into the same apathy that many children of color fall victim to in this country. There are many factors that can explain why so many of our children aren’t being successful in school, many of which having to do with parenting and home life, however a huge portion of the cause for this negative attitude in school is because children of color do not see a connection between themselves and the information they are being taught. What is the point of all this information that has nothing to do with me per se? What benefit is it to work hard in school, particularly when everyone I know, my parents, my friends and neighbors even my pastor are poor and disenfranchised? Because as far as I was concerned black folks just did not reach past a certain level except if you were on television, entertaining (enter black face, minstrel show).
So I went through the phase of wanting to be an actor, then basketball player then football. I guess if I had come of age in this generation my aspiration would have been to be a rapper. And what rapper or actor do you know who needs school? I cannot say for sure that if growing up I had been taught about all of the tremendous accomplishments black people in America have done and all of the amazing things that black folks have invented that I would have sought to become a better student. But I do know for sure that I would have understood my place in society and how this “education” I was getting could somehow benefit me in the future. I would have seen these lessons as leading me to take my place amongst the great men and women of color that had laid the ground work for me and I would have felt obligated to perpetuate this legacy.
Why is Black History important? Why is Black History Month so important?
When we fail to eliminate any aspect of history we do ourselves and our children a tremendous disservice. We tell them that only certain aspects of who were are are important, when in reality, no matter what color you are as an American, better yet as a human being you can benefit from the rich history of African American people.
Carter G. Woodson, the father of black history said it the best.
The so-called modern education, with all its defects, however, does others so much more good than it does the Negro, because it has been worked out in conformity to the needs of those who have enslaved and oppressed weaker peoples
Knowing who you are, where you come from and what your people have done to contribute to society creates the perception and world view that you will carry for your entire life. No wonder black folks seem to hate each other to the point where we murder ourselves more than any other race. Self hate begins as a small seed planted subtly in one's psyche. It is watered with things like exclusion and nurtured with bad girls club and Lil Wayne. It eventually grows into a bitter, menacing weed and becomes America’s worst nightmare, ending up on the cell block, in jail or prematurely pregnant. I am not trying to pull a Bill Cosby, please understand, because I am also a victim of this tragic drama. But I want you to see the direct correlation between the absence of proper education for black students and the realities of the worst aspects of our culture.
We perish for lack of knowledge.
It wasn’t until I reached high school, that I began to take my education much more seriously. Part of it had to do with the fact that I had discovered something I loved to do, which was write, but the other part had to do with a certain white teacher who made a suggestion to me that would change my life.
In this freshman year writing class that I was fortunate enough to take, my teacher would have us read a book and write a story in that author’s style. I had no idea what book to read, considering that I had not read many books prior to becoming a high school student. After being the last student to choose a book and being only one of two black kids in the class the teacher said to me, “oh, why don’t you just read Black Boy, by Richard Wright.” I truly believe that if the teacher had known what impact this book would have on me for the next few years she may not have suggested it to me. But after reading this book I went through a psychological transformation. I finally realized what my purpose was and where I fit in society. I could not articulate it at the time, nor could I even fully imagine it, but black history, the black experience, our struggle saved my life.