Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden, Utah went viral when families had the opportunity to opt out of Black History Month. The school later reversed the decision after the story went viral. The news story is important in a time when representation matters more. “North Ogden has a population of more than 20,500 people, more than 94% of whom are white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Black residents account for less than 0.8% of the population.” (The New York Times) While reading this article, I noticed how similar the demographics are to my own hometown Howell, Michigan. Currently in Howell 95.97% of the population is white, while 0.37% is black. While the demographics may be similar, Howell Public schools still continue to celebrate Black History Month.
As an educator and as someone who grew up in a similar demographic, I am appalled by the move to whitewash history. I grew up in Howell, Michigan. If you read “Malcolm X” or “the Green Book,” Howell is mentioned as a place that is unsafe for minorities. I look back and I was not a product of the environment because I was fortunate to have educators, family and people in my life who shared a different lens. I was fortunate to learn more about Black History Month because our church had a sister church in Detroit. I also participated in the New Detroit Exchange where urban students and rural students met and toured each other’s schools. I’ll never forget the crowded classrooms, lack of resources and computers. I saw the discrepancies between the districts, but I’ll forever be impressed by the students’ pride. These experiences helped widen my lens.
As educators we are the frontline workers who help break down stereotypes and assumptions. It is our job to not only educate students but help create change makers! Hearing that a school district was going to give the option for students to opt out of Black History month made me cringe. We all need to take the time to check ourselves and learn about one another. Looking at the demographics of the school it shows that the students need this experience even more. All students need to have the opportunity to learn about all cultures, ethnicities, social economic experiences and much more. Teaching students how to ask those uncomfortable questions and breaking stereotypes is the key to change! We must take the time to discuss how we all have lenses. It is essential as educators that we leave those lenses out of the classroom. We need to be aware of our assumptions and educate ourselves so we can meet the needs of all students. It does not matter if your school is a melting pot or predominantly one race……we must continue to educate. We must continue to celebrate and learn more about one another. Widening your lenses helps build a more empathetic society.