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Jacob Lawrence paintin between 1940 and 1941.

Jacob Lawrence between 1940 and 1941.

Black History: Celebration as Resistance

February 8, 2023

Black History: Celebration as Resistance

This blog post is second in a series celebrating this year’s Black History Month theme: Black Resistance.

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In February 1989, I was a student at a Catholic, all-girls high school on Chicago’s blue-collar, Southwest side located about nine miles from Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile. Globally, Nelson Mandela was one year away from being released following a 27-year imprisonment on South Africa’s Robben Island. Locally, the Ku Klux Klan was still holding rallies in Chicago’s infamous Marquette Park brought to the world stage in 1966 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held a march to protest discriminatory housing practices. King later said he had never seen, “even in Mississippi and Alabama—mobs as hostile and as hate-filled,” as he’d seen in Chicago. Just three miles away from the park, a small group of African American students, which included myself, was preparing to hold the first Black History celebration in their school’s 53-year history.

Change is not spontaneous. Sometimes it requires a bit of urging.

Fast forward to present day, the Florida high school students’ eloquent responses to the recent rejection of an Advanced Placement course in African American studies by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration reminded me of my previous experiences as a student of color in predominantly all-white academic institutions—specifically, the sparse offering of African American history within the curriculum. The difference for me was that when I was in high school no one in the school’s administration told us we couldn’t have a ceremony highlighting our history. Then again, no one was advocating for one either. Change is not spontaneous. Sometimes it requires a bit of urging.

We were inspired by the actions taken by those in the civil rights movement and considered this celebration to be our obligation to those who truly fought to end segregation and improve education...

Chicago is a city of immigrants, and this was constantly celebrated. There were paczkis on Fat Tuesday, and everyone was Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to the wealth of culture brought by immigrants, there was the notable culture brought to Chicago via the Great Migration from hundreds of thousands of African American migrants fleeing the South. And, as students, we believed this should also be celebrated.

Despite the overt racism we faced in the community, we believed that if we made a sound proposal based on educating the entire student body, it would be accepted. We were inspired by the actions taken by those in the civil rights movement and considered this celebration to be our obligation to those who truly fought to end segregation and improve education for students who were so often marginalized.

So many Americans come from a culture of resistance—where we are called upon to reject false narratives and unashamedly embrace our history.

A group of us met and planned the event and rehearsed in the school’s auditorium. My talented friend, Monica, choreographed the interpretive dances, curated the songs (a selection of spirituals and gospel) and directed the student singers. Lacking this talent, I was elected to write and present the speech on African American history—a daunting task. I provided a historical view of the accomplishments of African Americans and pointed out the work yet to be done in putting an end to racism and discrimination by noting the wrongful imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and at the speech’s conclusion raised my clenched fist in the symbol of Black power (a move inserted by my mother and practiced repeatedly on my part). Monica led the school in singing, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the African American national anthem. It was truly incredible. We received a standing ovation from students and teachers alike. Surprisingly, the administration asked us to present the ceremony again for a smaller group of guests from the community.

So many Americans come from a culture of resistance—where we are called upon to reject false narratives and unashamedly embrace our history. I offer my gratitude and salute students when they stay strong and embrace our complicated history, and I thank the teachers and school staff who provide the space and the grace for students to celebrate this history.

Read the Other Blogs in the Series

Black History Lesson Plans and Resources

Within this collection, you will find a variety of resources designed to help you effectively celebrate Black history and inspire year-round discussions on the subject. From lesson plans and classroom activities to blogs and free professional development webinars, these resources are meant to support educators in bringing Black history to life in the classroom.

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Heidi Goger

A passionate advocate on behalf of diverse learners. Experience as an educator, consultant, and district administrator. Philosophy: Practitioner of equity and social justice.

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