A Social Justice Newsletter for Educators
“But what happens if joy is not separate from pain? What if joy and pain are fundamentally tangled up with one another? Or even more to the point, what if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow, but it is also what emerges from how we care for each other through those things? What if joy, instead of refuge or relief from heartbreak, is what effloresces from us as we help each other carry our heartbreaks?” - Ross Gay, Inciting Joy (2022)*
I’ve said in other contexts that I do not consider myself much of a visionary. I struggle to imagine worlds and circumstances wildly different from what I have learned and seen so far. In the grand scheme of things I’ve also come to understand that this is true for many, many others. My antidote rests in listening to those who open the doors and windows wide on new horizons. I listen to poets, marvel at dancers’ creations, focus deeply on the work of documentarians, read historians and treasure time spent gabbing with friends and loved ones. These are the ways I feed my anaemic imagination and it helps.
Some months are easier than others for pulling this newsletter together. I found myself thinking and rethinking my approach to this one. Of course, Black History! And then there’s the world as it is. More police brutality, more mass shootings in communities of color, more rampant anti-Blackness as a popular political stance - right? All this stuff. So I dragged my feet and took my time. I cannot claim to have found the right message, only that I still have a few things to say and there is still so much yet to learn.
Ready for BHM 2023?
As you know, it is Black History Month in the United States; a time to honor and celebrate African American achievement and resilience in the face of continuous struggle. If you’ve been following along here, you’ll also know that Black History Month, while symbolically significant, should be seen as one more opportunity among many in the year to bring positive attention to the lives and accomplishments of Black folks. Here are some resources to consider:
Black History Month is celebrated in other parts of the world, too. The UK observes in October; Canada and Germany in February; Panama in May and Australia in January.
CommonSense.org has compiled a wonderful set of sites to explore (I mean, really good!) which offer a variety or resources relevant to Black History and Black life, broken down by age/grade levels and format (video, podcast, text, hands on).
Particularly for young writers, it might be cool to learn from these Black authors about their creative habits. Hear from Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, Jackie Woodson, and Nikki Giovanni to name a few.
What do you know about the origins of trap music? Consider sharing this astute exploration of a music sub-genre that has been very influential in recent hip hop, pop and RnB music. Your students will thank you.
Check out this selection of videos that I came across during my research. They cover a range of topics about which I knew very little (invention of the light bulb), and new details about folks I’ve known (James Baldwin); an animated short on one of the Hidden Figures protagonists (Dorothy Vaughn) and rare footage from a time I have only heard about (Black towns in 1920s Oklahoma). So without further ado, enjoy this Black History video buffet!
Getting to know HBCUs
Something I wanted to investigate and share this month is an introduction to the over 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) which can be found throughout the South but also in other parts of the United States. Originally established to educate Black people who were not permitted to attend white institutions, HBCUs “have historically enrolled and graduated many students, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or income level.” My mother attended Tennessee State in Nashville and my sister graduated from Howard University in DC. I grew up with an awareness of the big names like Fisk, Morehouse, Spelman and Hampton but never had occasion to spend time on any of their campuses.
I stumbled upon a PBS documentary which provides an excellent overview of the history, present and future of these critical institutions of higher education. Tell Them We Are Rising includes contributions from Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw and other noted historians documenting the influence and importance of HBCUs throughout post-Civil War American history.
On Youtube I fell down a delightful rabbit hole of marching band performances for which HBCUs are famous. I think watching the Jackson State Sonic Boom of the South might be my favorite so far. Florida A & M University is high in the running as well. The clip below discusses the distinct marching band tradition at HBCUs.
Also, journalist Arionne Nettles is launching a podcast series, “Bragging Rights”, on the HBCU legacy. You can listen to the trailer here.
However you spend or commemorate Black History Month, I hope you find time to step back and wonder. Wonder about the present and how we got here. Wonder about what’s good and exciting and promising in the midst of a thousand discouragements. Wonder about how the very distinct specifics of who and where you are at this moment enable you to act in favor of justice, on behalf of equity. Now is a good time to do it. Remember, too, now repeats.
I have felt especially grateful that some of you have shared how much you value this particular effort and really, there is no greater gift. Thanks for giving me good reason to stay on course. I appreciate you.
Wishing you a horizon-broadening February,
*Ross Gay is a delightful author to hear from. The pleasure is multiplied listening to him in conversation with poet and author, Clint Smith!
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