As we continue to teach Black History, this blog post is written by Greg Clay who is the founder of the Atlanta Speaks Initiative, Board Chairman of Skyview High School in South Fulton, GA., Atlanta Public Schools CTAE District Wide Advisory Board Immediate Past Chairman, KIPP WAYS Advisory Board Member, and Atlanta Board of Education Equity Taskforce Member
As Black History Month formally comes to an end, we are consistently reminded of the need to continue dialogue beyond the constraints of only one month.
There is also the need for continued dialogue across generations, especially connecting our Black boys to our history in science, technology, math and literature.
Bridging the gap between Black boys and Black History is needed!
As a millennial who has consistently heard the need for a stronger approach to Black history throughout my entire life, the conversation of more awareness related to the struggles, contributions, and history of Blacks in America has forever been an evolving conversation.
The narrative has taken an even stronger meaning when considering the lack of overall communication from generation to generation in the black community, yielding a younger, uninformed population of generations to follow.
I recall many of my direct experiences, one where seniors in an Atlanta high school were unfamiliar with two prominent Atlantans, Benjamin E. Mays (who has a high school named after him in Atlanta) and Ambassador Andrew Young. Another instance, where students walking by an old historic restaurant, Paschal’s, on MLK Jr. Dr, were unfamiliar that this was one of the primary meeting locations of Martin Luther King Jr. and others during the civil rights movement.
Especially in the Black community, you see a generational gap of historical understanding–evident in the resources and artifacts that represent our history that are not cherished and maintained.
Unfortunately, while several of our learning centers, streets, and other markers bear the name of prominent leaders from our communities, the artifacts and physical structures that represent a lineage of great leadership have not been maintained at the level that inspires our neighborhoods daily.
While there are a number of different monuments that can be named, institutions like the Historic Paschal’s in Atlanta shape the narrative of examples of this point, holding a pain point in the hearts of many as the physical structure deteriorates by the day.
The mystery of when it will be improved, only discussed at the occasional stirring of election cycles, nearby developments, or periodic conversations that push the point time and time again, with no real answers in the end.
The aforementioned student experiences are not totally indicative of the entire student population, we must recognize that the lack of transferring history to our Black boys is crippling a narrative of historic legacy in our communities.
There may be many ideas about how to increase awareness, but my position is one that requires a transformational engagement in what people see, hear, and experience in their communities on a regular basis related to Black History.
Communities are extremely dynamic, the transformational engagement not only has to happen in our youth centers, homes, and libraries, the engagement must occur in our schools. Our learning centers have become ground-zero for opportunities to impact the hearts and minds of our Black boys.
Not just through academic rigor and other academic programs, but the intersection of culture, enrichment, and life-long learning have become more advanced themes as our schools become more than just places for instruction. The development of specific curriculums, year-round cultural experiences, and excursion opportunities to supplement in school experiences are necessary routes we need to pivot towards.
We must be more intentional about presenting intergenerational dialogue to the forefront, so that it becomes a normal rhythm of impacting culture. I had the opportunity to sit with middle and high school students, sharing a conversation with civil rights leaders J.T. Johnson and Dr. Walter Young.
While the conversation was not at a school, this dialogue held at the Andrew & Walter Young YMCA in Southwest Atlanta was an intentional conversation to discuss some of the things about the civil rights movement that may not have been surface knowledge to most.
During the dialogue, because it was so specific, when our Black boys would engage in questions there was a very practical and direct cadence to their inquiries.
Topics were more specific to things they were dealing with in their particular schools, their lives, and efforts they are working on, and it made for a remarkable conversation. J.T. discussing how his hair got permanently gray by being sabotaged in a swimming pool with acid dumped in it, or Dr. Young speaking on how his craft as a dentist helped to fuel movement efforts and healthcare, brought about a level of granular engagement that we need to slow down to…slow down to connect, to converse, and to appreciate.
I believe that our schools can be more to capture our historical context of our neighborhoods. In working in unison with libraries, local archives, museums, and historical organizations and institutions, I believe we can proactively inspire a generation of leaders to come, and catch up to a generation that may have missed the message.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.