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White Girl on Black History Month

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Students Learning

In 1965, a black student was enrolled in my fifth grade class.  I don’t remember really giving it much thought:  she was like any other new student and that’s the way we thought about her.  We were too young to know about Civil Rights and prejudice and riots and the anger that was rocking the country.  

After all, we were just kids. And our world was our fifth grade classroom, and everything was okay there. Maybe the world would be better if kids ran it. 

It’s Black History Month.

Black History Month was created to honor the contributions of Black Americans to our society, despite the struggles and horrors they have faced along the way.  And those contributions have been legion. 

We all know about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and James Baldwin.  These are the ones that have made it to history and literature books in most American schools, and we all hope will stay there.  However,  there are countless others who didn’t, but they opened doors for others to walk through:

  • Shirley Chisholm - the first black female congresswoman

  • Bayard Rustin - the mastermind behind the 1963 March on Washington

  • Claudette Colvin - the first black woman to refuse to sit in the back of the bus

  • Annie Lee Cooper - critical to the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement

  • Dorothy Height - the “godmother of the women’s movement”

  • Robert Sengstacke Abbott - the founder of the Chicago Defender

  • Ethel Waters - the first black American to start in her own TV show, The Ethel Waters Show

  • Jane Bolin - the first Black American woman to attend Yale Law School

  • Marian Anderson - the first Black American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera

And the list could go on for countless pages. 

The point is that these people not only helped Black Americans who followed in their footsteps, they made all of America better and stronger for their contributions.  Even white America. 

Sadly, there are those who still stand in the way of equality for everybody.  One of the two major political parties is running a candidate who doesn’t know why the Civil War was fought in this country.  That same party has gutted Affirmative Action, gerrymandered black voting districts out of existence, allowed discrimination back into the Voting Rights Act, and turned a blind eye to a judicial system that favors white people over black. 

The thing that this party doesn’t understand is this:  if one part of society is discriminated against, then anybody can be.  It’s a matter of when your turn comes around.  After all, the prediction for the white race to be in the minority by 2045 is pretty sound.  

My generation won’t live to see this, but my children and grandchildren will.  Wonder how that plays out?  Wonder if the minorities of the first two hundred years will treat white people the way they’ve been treated, or if a race that has had to struggle and die for rights and causes the rest of us take for granted daily has learned a lesson about humanity.

I’d give worlds to know. But for now, we can continue to fight for equality for all and honor our diversity. 

And, like this old white girl, celebrate Black History Month and what it means to me.

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