Many Threads typography

Many Threads: Challenges of teaching Black history

Challenges of teaching Black history

he “Power of Education” is the theme of a February Black History Month Thought Leaders Forum moderated by J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer. “We are challenging historical erasure by reclaiming Black history,” said Abraham in welcoming remarks. “History is not just a call to reflection, but a call to action.

Noting our nation’s tarnished history surrounding race, Abraham termed education “One of the most effective tools to create awareness and fight back against injustice.”

NYSUT President Melinda Person agreed. “Our nation is at a crucial moment, we’re confronted with a troubling trend that seeks to diminish, distort or outright erase Black history from our public school curriculum,” she said. “It not only undermines the significance of Black contributions to our nation but deprives our students of a comprehensive and truthful understanding of American history.”

The forum, part of NYSUT’s Many Threads, One Fabric social justice series, featured a slate of speakers who discussed the challenges educators of color face teaching Black history.

Teaching Black history from a position of perseverance and strength, rather than reducing enslaved Blacks to their institution, is important, said LaShonda Bradberry, a high school special education teacher and member of the Cheektowaga Central Teachers Association. “They were people first who had skills,” said Bradberry, noting that she teaches her students that they were the first chefs, blacksmiths and skilled tradesmen, helping to build the country.

History teacher Emmanuel Blanchard Jr., a member of North Shore Schools Federated Employees, said limiting Black history lessons to a handful of prominent figures can be disempowering. “It reduces groups of individuals to caricatures of themselves … that you’re nothing more than two figures in history,” said Blanchard. “The erasure of history is the erasure of the individual and there are dire consequences to that.”

Students who aren’t Black and brown also benefit from Black history lessons, said Johanna Josaphat, United Federation of Teachers, a middle school educator in Brooklyn. “Learning the history and being able to celebrate all members of their community … changes their perception, how they see themselves and how they view others,” Josaphat said.

Learning their history also empowers Black students, said Zenya Richardson, Rockland Community College Federation of Teachers. “Learning about yourself gives you permission to be proud of your history … it’s an acknowledgement of where you come from and helps you see where you can go.”

To view the forum, and for more info, visit nysut.org/socialjustice.