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Beyond February: Building Black futures all year, not just for ‘History’ month

Garland Thomas-David | February 29, 2024

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As the leader of a majority-Black school in the heart of Brooklyn, I raise my hand in enthusiastic support of Black History Month. It’s a vital platform to reflect on the phenomenal contributions of Black individuals throughout history, igniting conversations and inspiring future generations. Yet, while February provides a powerful spotlight, it shouldn’t be the sole illumination of Black excellence. As educators, we must move beyond seasonal Blackness and embrace a continuous celebration that recognizes and empowers Black students, leaders and communities 365 days a year.

Confining Black history lessons and leadership discussions to a designated month risks perpetuating a narrative of tokenism and underrepresentation. It suggests that Black stories and achievements deserve attention only within a limited timeframe, reinforcing historical stereotypes and erasing the daily realities of Black heroism. Imagine the transformative impact of integrating the stories and contributions of Black mathematicians into the math curriculum seamlessly, not just during Black History Month. Similarly, amplifying the voices of Black leaders in ongoing educational discussions, not just during diversity panels, creates a more inclusive and representative landscape.

Breaking free from historical stereotypes requires shifting focus beyond iconic figures of the past. Everyday heroism exists within each community, often unseen and undercelebrated. From the dedicated teacher nurturing young minds to the entrepreneur creating opportunities, a more comprehensive and relatable narrative is created that inspires students to envision themselves as agents of change and leaders in their own right.

Make no mistake: Black History Month should continue and serve as a launchpad for year-round celebration. Education plays a profound role in shaping young minds and influencing future leaders. It opens doors to possibilities, expands perspectives and fosters the critical thinking and empathy needed to navigate an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. Imagine a school where Black students see themselves reflected in their teachers, their curriculum and the heroes celebrated on the walls. This isn’t a dream, it’s our reality at Brooklyn Lab. Rather than limit our showcasing of Black excellence to February alone, we weave it into the fabric of our school year. Here’s how your school can, too:

Integrate diverse local narratives into your curriculum and conversations. Don’t wait for February to highlight Black voices. At Brooklyn Lab’s Parent Leadership Council, Black parents become active partners, shaping the school experience for their children and all students. Seek out books, films and resources that offer a multifaceted perspective on history and contemporary life. Celebrate a tapestry of cultural traditions by acknowledging and embracing the diverse heritages that make your community vibrant.

Expose students to everyday local heroes and Black role models, including teachers and school leaders. Consistent exposure to positive Black role models increases the academic outcomes and educational aspirations of Black students. Who inspires you in your community? Share their stories with students, colleagues and friends. Let their journeys illuminate the diverse paths to success. At Brooklyn Lab, 93% of our team identify as people of color, and our Teacher Coaching Residency program develops teachers and leaders who reflect our students’ reality. Our annual Success Looks Like Me career day and regular evening events showcasing Historically Black Colleges and Universities open doors and expand possibilities. Encourage networking events and job shadowing programs, or simply spark conversations that broaden horizons.

This continuous approach fosters belonging and self-worth that transcends the calendar. Students see themselves reflected not just in February, but every day, propelling them to dream bigger and reach their full potential. Each action, big or small, contributes to a richer, more inclusive reality for all, powered by your own school community.

Each city is shaped by the vibrant people of its community. While the specific heroes and initiatives may differ, the call to action is universal:  to move beyond the limitations of seasonal recognition and embrace a genuine commitment to celebrating Black excellence year-round. Harness the unique local environment of your school and community, fostering a space where Black students feel acknowledged, empowered and equipped to build their own bright futures, brick by brick, not just during “history” month.  Living role models of Black success can influence and impact the next generation.Together, educators can break the cycle of seasonal Blackness and illuminate the brilliance of each community every single day. Reflect on your role in building a more inclusive and supportive environment where Black excellence is not just celebrated, but nurtured and empowered. The future is brimming with possibilities. The influence of educators can ensure that all children see themselves as authors of their own story, not just during a “history” month but throughout the entire year.

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