To study American history is often an exercise in learning selected truths and proposed agendas. Curricula and texts throughout the country continue to center the suppressor vs oppresed experience, with Black people often confined to a short section about slavery and quotes by civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks among others through retelling their stories. Many walk away from their social studies classes and through the world with a stark lack of understanding of the history, and perspective of African American people in the United States.
The consistent disregard of the African Diasporic experience and lack of consideration for the ways these individuals fought to survive, and ultimately thrive worldwide would have the masses left to think that tales of Afro-Caribbeans, Black Canadians – descendants of enslaved West Africans brought to the United States, the Caribbean, and South America during the Atlantic slave trade, to only be narrated through the lens of oppresssion. Thanks to the power of hands- on learning via storytelling today, we are able to provide our students with more than text to engage them in the conversation of a diverse and inclusive history.
In efforts to highlight the contributions of black history leaders, this year at PS. 42 we have a gallery walk including the Black Panther Party, and their extensive work to serve breakfast to students in the communities that needed it most across the country in 1969 through the early 1970’s. We also introduced the children’s tale of Dr. George Washington Carver, and his remarkable legacy in food science. As an agricultural scientist he actively promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion, which helps to guide many gardeners today with regard to their necessary crop rotation for optimal growth and harvests in places like our school garden. Then the students have a more tangible example of black history, me, their food and garden literacy educator who is a Garifuna descendant from Honduras.
Students today are mainly engaged through experiential, and tangible examples in their lessons to better apply concepts to real life. Through the spectrum of macrocosmic examples like the Panthers and Dr. Carver, students can understand that the basic need to contextualize what happened in the past to create a better world in the now. By including several stories of my upbringing with Garifuna grandparents who lived off their land with basic farming experience produced fruit, vegetables and assisted agronomers for sugar importation in the early 90’s, we can connect ELA narration and storytelling units to the very same food and garden literacy conducted every week. I am not a far removed example through which students themselves can be inspired to, in the near future, create legacies of historical events for a lifetime.