Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Every February, Black History Month gives us the chance to pay specific and focused attention to the history and contributions of the people whose stories must be told. A chance to honor how far we have come and how much work we have left to do. While Black history should be embedded in our curriculum throughout the school year, I consider this month a unique opportunity to reflect on the past and future of equity in our schools.
Stories have the capability to not only educate and empower, but to shape history as well. This is why I often tell my story of growing up in the segregated south, and of the many people who sacrificed to allow me the opportunities to learn and ultimately work in public education for forty years.
My family was among the first to integrate the schools in Marks, Mississippi. My parents supported my siblings and me when we chose to attend the white school when desegregation was ordered. As a child, I thought attending the white school meant that I would get to go to a better facility, with new books, big athletic fields, and the most exciting part: a swimming pool.
However, attending the new school did not mean my siblings and I were allowed equitable access to all of these things. Quite the opposite was true. The adults filled in the swimming pool with cement so we could not swim with the white kids, and the students, teachers, and administrators made it known we were not wanted there.
We persevered, thanks to the advocacy of so many people, including my parents and community members. It is because of the people who sacrificed so much, even lost opportunities for themselves, defended and encouraged me, that I stuck with education and made a career out of advocating for all kids.
We all have a role to play, working together. Our equity mission at the Department of Public Instruction is to ensure every student has what they need to learn when they need it to be successful. Let’s use Black History Month to share the stories from the past, celebrate our successes, and strengthen our commitment to addressing the deep and persistent achievement gaps in the state. By acknowledging the past, we can address the future.