Honoring Black History (in February and Beyond)

There are so many things I love about Dawson Elementary School. One of those things is the amazing diversity here. We’re just so fortunate to have such a variety of different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. I believe only greatness can come from that.

Our school is a truly special place to be, and part of how I strive to honor that is to celebrate students’ identities and cultures year-round. As leaders, we have a hand in creating schoolwide community moments that students will remember forever. I try to take a “both/and” approach: celebrate individual cultures during special awareness opportunities like Hispanic Heritage Month and build in smaller, regular opportunities that ensure the option to celebrate every background and experience is always available. 

I want to share three ways our school community makes sure to center Black history in February and year-round, in the hopes that this might inspire you:

1. Look for joyful, hands-on ways to bring moments and figures to life.

Last year, as we approached Black History Month, I thought, “How can I make this come to life?” I dressed up as historical and contemporary figures for the morning announcements, from Serena Williams to astronaut Joan Higginbotham. I really wanted to create something memorable for students and make it a fun learning experience and joyful celebration.

While it was a lot of fun, this year I want to take the spotlight off of me as a Black principal, to ensure students are involved in further expanding their knowledge of Black History and culture. This February, we will encourage students to research a historical African-American figure of their choice that has had an impact on our society and create a poster.

We’ll encourage students to explore whatever moments or people are moving for them. Black people encompass such a wide breadth of achievements and resilience. We are welcoming students to represent lesser-known figures as well as moments anyone might have experienced in their everyday lives. Students will then have the opportunity to have their posters displayed throughout our school hallways so that we learn collectively as a school community.

2. Have a schoolwide “blind book date.”

We’re also trying a new Black History Month activity that incorporates literature calling a “blind book date.” My team and I will gather different books from our school library all about African American stories, history and culture – both past and present. We’ll wrap them in simple brown paper and tie them up with a plain colored string. Then we’ll write only the first sentence of the book on the front and ask students to pick a book based just on that first sentence! We think this will be a fun way to help our whole school engage with Black history from an added place of mystery and compassion.

We plan to choose a range of books that will both highlight the richness of Black history and shine a light on the people breaking barriers today. It’s important to me to encourage a wide definition of what making history can look like by celebrating those making history right now. 

For example, our students love, love, love sports. So there’s no way we could plan these blind book dates without including some of their favorite athletes – who also happen to be African American. But that gives my team and me a built-in opportunity to highlight the lesser-known stories of those favorites. Students might not know that their top basketball player created his own school or started a community foundation! So the door is already open to broaden students’ exposure and create an experience that’s both fun and reflective.

3. Use morning announcements to recognize rich stories year-round.

Morning announcements offer a daily space to expose students to trivia questions and fun facts on various cultures. Every Wednesday morning we invite students to submit their answer to the Trivia Tuesday question upon arrival. We will always leave time for Trivia Tuesday and Fun Fact Friday. We draw inspiration from any special events on our calendar – whether it’s Black History Month or an upcoming school event.

They might have researched a special topic and want to share what they’ve learned with our office staff or have a question around topics like college and career that stems from the announcements. Because we have that opportunity built in to our weekly flow, it provides a flexible, fun way to keep conversations about important topics present year-round.

There’s always, always an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the beauty that comes with diverse cultures and backgrounds – and do that in a way that extends beyond just a month, week or day per year.  I always say, “Black History Begins on February 1st and ends on January 31st!” Share your approach in the comments!

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