Every February, the United States celebrates Black History Month to honor the triumphs and struggles that Black people have had over the course of American history. Beginning in 1915 as only a weeklong acknowledgment, the civil rights movement in the 1960s brought this annual occasion to its current prominence, extended it to the entire month of February, a strategic choice in order to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. This historic event is a nationally recognized observance, and is celebrated in many countries abroad as well.
At Pace, students will celebrate through student-led assemblies and discussions in history classes surrounding the impact of Black culture and actions throughout history. In addition, assemblies primarily led by Upper School English teacher Bailey Player and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) officer and History teacher Duke Sherrell will tell the story of the history of Pace and its connections to the Jim Crow south, the civil rights movement, and integration at Pace. “More than anything, the DEI team is trying to raise awareness and get out information about simply what’s around them,” said Mr. Sherrell. “I think it’s important to understand the context of the school that you go to and its place in terms of the history of the United States.”
Co-leader of the Black student Alliance (BSA) and junior England Meadows shared similar sentiments. “BSA hopes to increase knowledge of Black history by providing open spaces to engage in discussion about Black people and their influence,” Meadows said. “In doing this, we look forward to continuing to provide the broader Pace community with opportunities to immerse themselves in aspects of Black culture like literature, music, and more.”
When asked about her perception about the overall goal of this month long observance, Meadows detailed that “society is changing constantly, and we as people within the Black diaspora are changing too — our perspectives, our opinions, and our experiences. To say there is a goal implies there is a definite ‘ending’ we would like to reach when in reality this month is a time of highlighting the importance of the contributions of Black people.”
However, Black history month is not the only time the Pace community can and should learn more about Black history. “The minimesters are a great tool for that,” Mr. Sherrell said, referring to the weeklong classes taken at the arrival of winter break. “We can also do better at encouraging more discussions about the curriculum as it is constructed. For example, how can we actually make our curriculum more inclusive and reflective of the experiences of the different students we have here at Pace in addition to the dominant white European perspective.”
“I would argue that a big portion of context and historical interpretation is needed in order to understand the situation of Black Americans in society,” Meadows added. “Education systems need to discuss the culture of Black Americans before slavery to dismantle the misconception that our culture was solely developed as a result of slavery and being a ‘benefit’ to other people. These discussions can be uncomfortable, but if we come into it with open hearts and minds, I do believe progress can be made.” Meadows also noted the importance of people taking it upon themselves to learn Black history and genuinely appreciate its value even in the small ways to avoid “blatant ignorance.”
Mr. Sherrell agreed, saying that as long as people are intentional in wanting to learn, it is easy to pick a topic within Black history and learn about it fully to contextualize it. “Depth is more important. That’s some of the good work we’re looking for.”
Black History Month is a time to celebrate Black accomplishments and fully recognize the indelible impact that the Black community has had in American society. “It’s so important to have this time where some of that lost history can be found again,” Mr. Sherrell concluded.