black history month Archives - The Jose Vilson

black history month

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

A couple of months ago, in the middle of a few good conversations, Leonie Haimson reminded me that I was one of the first NYC edubloggers to do “it.” By it, we all understood “it” to be using a blog to speak up and out about educational issues. People like NYC Educator, Norm’s Notes, JD2718, Pissed Off Teacher, and the now defunct EduWonkette, informed my early thinking about how best to approach writing to what seemed like everybody and nobody at once, namely the thousands of NYC teachers needing a voice. Yet, as is often the case, I saw a gaping hole in the middle of this conversation surrounding education (activism or pedagogy), so vacuous in fact, it might frighten anyone less persistent.

When it comes to race, or any marginalized group, those most affected (or disaffected, as it were) have to teach the privileged about its deleterious effects.

Even in a well-meaning group of educators, and trust me when I say I’ve rarely felt uncomfortable in any room of educators I’ve walked into, some of us have common misunderstandings, mistakes, and omissions about experiences that don’t fall within our line of vision. Sometimes, they honestly don’t know how to approach the issue of race. Other times, they thought about it right, but if they discuss race, then they might feel the need to have to expound and don’t feel informed enough to have the discussion. Then there’s just those who, even though they like to mention race every so often, look at writers like me and say, “What gives this guy the right to voice his opinion on race because he’s Black / Latino?”

It was evident then that writing this way wasn’t just pissing people off in general, but agitating their visions of a complacent educated negro.

When we write, we don’t just bring our use of the language with us. We bring an entirety of experiences, more often than not different from the other. The best we can do is come to the table with an understanding that we’ll actually read the arguments with two lenses: for what they are and for the lens that wrote them. Writing as an Black / Latino educator, I have to seek solutions rather than simply point problems, because if I can’t work towards them, then how can I expect my students to do the same?

We can also be honest and say that my color already puts people in a disposition to either lurk behind the writing or, worse, ignore it. The problem with, and the solution to, that is, you’re forcing me to come twice as hard, twice as loud, twice as “race-y”. Now that I subsist in the same domain that your favorite blogger elites do, in the same “lists” and “pages” they do, write in spaces that rarely gave us access, my non-violent protests can no longer be diluted to a simple sit-in. In fact, it’s as radical as anything any edublogger of color does.

This shit rare. We ain’t even supposed to be here.

Jose, who knows you’ll understand …


In my last post, I put down some thoughts on Black History Month, something I’ve written about at least once for the last four years. Every so often, I get a question that I ought to put in an FAQ section. For instance:

“What if you’re a white teacher teaching about Black history?”

I often reply, “Go right ahead, as long as you do it right.”

Of course, you want to know what I mean by “right.” Besides the aforementioned article, I’d like to point you in the direction of some of the comments made in that article, too. For instance, here’s my respected colleague Mike Kaechele:

As a social studies teacher I really don’t like all of the special months and days. I try to teach the various viewpoints of history holistically. I will not be singling out blacks in February, just like we didn’t talk about terrorism on 9/11. We did spend three weeks on 9/11 and terrorism when it fit where we were as a class. We have talked about African Americans in the context of all of the wars and foreign policy that we have discussed. I feel comfortable not focusing on Black history in February because we do integrate it all year in context and we will spends weeks on the Civil Rights Movement starting in March.

I do appreciate the need to still have these months because too many people and teachers still neglect them. But for me in my classroom, I choose to ignore the “calendar schedule” knowing that I will give the topics due diligence when it fits our scope and sequence.

We have something here. Here’s another one from my colleague Laura Sexton:

Having our school on a college campus means that I get to walk my Spanish 2 class over for the college’s Celebrando America Latina series featuring afrolatinos in Peru, Mexico, and Cuba this month, but we’re not going to even start the unit about afrolatino experiences in different countries (which you helped me out with a few years ago wiki style, and for which I owe you part of my National Board certification) until the end of the month, so it’ll go well into March too. So over 1/3 of the course is approaching Woodson’s goal, right?

Right. For now, I don’t want anyone thinking Black / Latino / LGBT / Asian / Women’s / Native American / Any Non-Dominant Group History Month should go away, but eventually, whether we have mainstream views on America or not, we do have to do more than acknowledge these groups’ roles in American history, and until we do that, we’ll continue to need them.

It starts with those of us in the classroom, but we can’t do it alone.

Jose, who needs non-educators to jump into the fray too …



Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson with wife Rachel, Hall of Fame

First, I’d like to acknowledge that, on the chance that you’re actually celebrating Black History Month, congrats. You haven’t let the Common Core madness deter you from celebrating culture, whether it’s your own or someone else’s.  The decorations will spring up. Common faces like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Benjamin Banneker, and Will Smith will border the walls of a few classrooms, and probably a few hallways. There might be a fact-a-day in the announcements, and one in 400 schools might have someone who knows the Black National Anthem. (I know you’re mumbling it after the fourth line.)

But, has it ever occurred to you that, as well-intentioned as this might be, we ought to take the next step and celebrate Black history on March 1st as well?

We already know that Black History Month wasn’t meant to stay as lack History Month. Carter G. Woodson intended for this celebration to happen until it clicked for curriculum creators to speak to the story of the American Negro as part of the American history, and not just in platitudes and the Civil Rights movement.

People often argue that, when we stop celebrating Black History Month, people will start celebrating year-round, and there’s no way I’ll ever argue that. In fact, we should start celebrating all cultures and colors year-round so the need for specialized months for our marginalized groups would look antiquated. In other words, put John Steinbeck and Malcolm X quotes together, and celebrate The Beatles and the Temptations simultaneously. We can celebrate Michelle Obama as part of the lineage with Barbara Bush and Eleanor Roosevelt.

To Kill a Mockingbird in English class is a start, and so is having a Black president. Yet, we have so much pushback, I always wonder if we’ll ever not need a Black History Month. The “civil rights issue of our time” has a severe lack of sincere educators willing to tackle on the issue of diversity without trying to let go of their privilege, too. With the decline of black teachers happening all over the country (Chicago a prime example), it’s time for our White brethren to teach with compassion and understand on the issue of race if they aren’t already.

So jump into Black History Month, and get your feet wet with some of this history. Do your research a bit and drop the dime in a child’s ear, because that might inspire them to aspire. But once February 28th hits, leave those chapters open and bookmark those links.

The kids still need to know that there were, are, and will continue to be people who look just like them that positively impacted the lives of others, role models for the lack thereof in present times.

Jose, because this is to the memory of Hadiya Pendleton …


Black History Month: Documenting Our Bones, Our Blood, Our Lives [Listen]

February 2, 2012 Jose

Tonight, my organization, Latino Alumni Network of Syracuse University, got a chance to co-sponsor a book event featuring Craig T. Williams, the author of The Olympian, a story based on the life of Dr. John Baxter Taylor, Jr., the first African-American (and one of the first Americans period) to win an Olympic gold medal. Williams’ […]

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The Education Race Man On Black History Month 2011 (Exhibit V)

February 22, 2011 Jose

Normally, I don’t start posts like this, but imagine my annoyance at another misinformed message regarding Black History Month, this time from an unlikely source. Not sure who first posted it, but in the video, Morgan Freeman asserts two points: Black history is American history, so we shouldn’t relegate the history to a month. To […]

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