Closing Out Black History Month as a Classroom

I’ve written quite a lot about Black History Month these past few weeks. I’ve covered notable African American writers and authors, as well as individuals who made strides in the field of STEM. With February coming to an end however, I’d like to include one last blog on the subject. After all, just because Black History Month is coming to a conclusion doesn’t mean these individuals will become any less relevant. Their work deserves to be celebrated regardless of the date, and we have the opportunity to do so in our classrooms.

Recently, I stumbled upon Sojourner Truth’s, “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech for the first time. The impromptu speech, delivered in Akron, Ohio in in 1851, was an impassioned call for equality, both for women and African Americans. Despite being illiterate, Truth was one of the nation’s most powerful orators, and this speech highlights her ability to move crowds with her words. Yet, in today’s hectic classroom, it’s all too easy for the words and works of heroes like Sojourner Truth to fall by the wayside. So, as we conclude these final days of Black History Month, let’s take a moment and make room for those individuals who might get overlooked in our classroom lessons.

Notable Names

Here are just a few prominent African Americans to help you get started:

  • Henrietta Lacks: Henrietta Lacks was an accidental pioneer in life-saving medicine. At the age of 31, Lacks was diagnosed with cancer, and doctors discovered that her cancer cells could be used to create treatments for a wide range of medical ills. Her cells, which are still alive today, have been used to develop multiple vaccines and treatments. However, doctors took Lacks’ cells without her knowledge or consent. By recognizing Lacks, teachers can honor her contribution to medicine, while also demonstrating to students the harm caused by unethical decisions.
  • Sidney Poitier: Sidney Poitier was notable for changing the way American’s viewed their media. At a time when the film industry was still very segregated, Sidney Poitier made waves by becoming one of the few leading African American men in Hollywood. His performances helped inform the public about important social issues and went on to inspire countless actors who we know today. Most of all, Sidney Poitier was the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. Have students consider how Sidney Poitier’s work may have influenced their favorite movies or TV shows!
  • Amanda Gorman: After Joe Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th president, Amanda Gorman read “The Hill We Climb,” building on a tradition of poets — including Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco — who have read for incoming presidents. Gorman is the youngest of these inaugural poets to offer her verse. She is also the author of a best-selling book of poetry, Call Us What We Carry. In recognizing Gorman, teachers can honor her contribution to literature while also introducing students to a potential new book!
  • Mari Copeny: When Mari Copeny was eight years old, she wrote a letter to President Barack Obama to draw attention to the water crisis in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. Her letter prompted the president to visit the city itself, and ultimately approve 100 million dollars to help fight the crisis. Since then, Mari has worked to raise awareness for the environment and the dangers of faulty infrastructure. Teachers can use her example to show their students how they can take a stand for what they care about. They could even follow Copeny’s example by determining what’s in their drinking water!
Further Activities

If you enjoyed learning about these fascinating individuals, be sure to check out Blue Apple’s free Timely Topic: Celebrating Black History Month. This downloadable resource consists of four, fun inquiry-based lessons which teach students about the remarkable contributions of Black Americans and their impact on history. There is still time to recognize those extraordinary individuals who changed history. So don’t this opportunity to close out Black History Month in a way that’s memorable, meaningful, and fun!

*Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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