antiracist · social justice

A Book Museum for Black History Month

February seems far away. I don’t know about you, but for me, each week brings big changes, so the idea of planning a few months out is hard, but…here’s the deal… this is my last post before TWT takes a holiday break, and then we come back and it’s January, and just like that… February. And the idea I’m presenting could take some planning and presenting. Are you still with me? Will you keep reading?

Here a truth about this post: I’ve debated publishing it, and I have changed the date twice. Anti-bias/Antiracist (ABAR) instruction feels vulnerable to me because even when my intention is positive, the impact isn’t necessarily what I meant, and the stakes are high. I’ve been working hard on my own knowledge around equity, and the more I learn, the more I feel like there is to learn.

February is Black History Month. Last year, I created a list of fives for Black History Month, and it was well received, but a lot has happened since last February. I plan on sending this document out again, as well as nudging toward a schoolwide museum, as described in this post.

I have mixed feelings about a month for Black history. Black history is American history, and we don’t have a month that focuses on American history. For some important ideas about how to teach in culturally responsive ways throughout the year, check out this Edutopia article, and for reasons why this month matters, ABC ran a story in February 2020. In the meantime, Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Americans in all areas. This video from the Jacobs Company shows people explaining what Black History Month means to them. Bringing a different perspective, Morgan Freeman reflects on the issues he has with one month designated for Black history.

All that being said, here’s an idea, shared by an inspirational professional colleague that I’m working toward for February 2021, and if anyone is interested in collaborating and joining in the planning of this, I’d welcome partners. The vision is to have a schoolwide museum– in person or virtual– as part of Black History Month. After an introduction to Black History Month and its significance, each class would choose a picture book about an inspirational Black person.

Live Setting Options

In a live setting, each class would discuss the book, the person, and the achievement, and then decide how to decorate the classroom door, a bulletin board, or hallway display board to inform and inspire others. Classrooms could expand and develop their presentations however they are inspired to do so.

Virtual Setting Options

If we are in a virtual situation, then classrooms would create their own classroom slide in order to inform and inspire others. The school could have an entire slide deck representative of the books and people students learned about. Depending on the level of technological expertise, other options exist as well. A Padlet could be created, with each classroom having a column. As an example one of the third grade distance learning classes created a Padlet in response to Katherine Johnson. You can see some of the students’ contributions below. If a whole school were taking part, then the book could be at the top of the Padlet, and each of the students’ contributions below.

As another option, WeVideo is a phenomenal resource, and a series of videos could be uploaded for each book. Whatever platform people are comfortable with offers an option. Whatever the platform, these presentations could offer opportunities for collaboration, appreciation, audience, and expanding learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

Here is a developing chart with picture books about inspiring Black/African Americans for each grade level. This is not intended to limit choices, but to suggest resources that feature a wide variety of people across disciplines with the following criteria:

  • Areas of accomplishment: Books feature people in the contexts of STEM, the arts, politics/law, activism, journalism, and sports.
  • Source Consideration: Whenever possible, books are written and/or illustrated by African American authors and illustrators and/or people with expertise.
  • Context and Spirit: The story about a person includes the social context in which s/he lived. It will show a person’s resilience despite the structures in place; however, the main focus of the story is not on oppression, but instead on the determination, strength, and achievements/contributions of the person. 
  • Relevancy:  Whenever possible, I tried to match the topics with our curriculum. As we add to our resources over the years, these books can move to the unit and we can add more for this February celebration.

Again, I’m welcoming thought partners, and this certainly doesn’t have to be a whole school initiative– but I do think it could be a way to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans in a meaningful way for both students and adults.

In addition to planning for Black History Month, I am also constantly on the lookout for ways to weave Black history into curriculum, and not just from the lenses of persecution and oppression, but also from the important lenses of achievements and contributions. The work of Tricia Ebarvia, Dr. Kim Parker, Julia Torres, and Lorena Germán inspires me, as they have worked to disrupt texts and dismantle White supremacy in education.

There is so much to learn in this work, and there are so many mistakes to make. However, as Shana Frazin said during the Teachers College Equity Institute, “We need to do what we can when we can with what we have.”

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