Many people know that February has been dedicated to the African American community in regards to their triumphs and struggles under the name Black History Month. However, not everyone understands the actual history of it, beginning with historian Carter G. Woodson. But who exactly was Carter G. Woodson? Widely known as the “Father of Black History,” he was the second African American graduate from Harvard with a doctorate. In 1926 he established the precursor to modern day Black History Month: Negro History Week. This was the second week of February strategically based on the birthdays of both influential abolitionists Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Through all of Woodson’s tenacity, it was not until 50 years later that his dream was accomplished by President Gerald Ford in 1976, who deemed February as the official month dedicated to Black History.
Now how does Sehome embody this in the school curriculum? Here we are extremely fortunate to have our Diversity in Action club dedicated to helping the student body celebrate the accomplishments of the African American community. Run by President Marissa Douglass (junior) and Communications Manager/Treasurer Sri Bhola (sophomore), they have assembled a full schedule for students to participate in this month.
Most recently, they hosted a Martin Luther King Jr assembly, which was originally scheduled in January-the week of MLK Day-but had to be pushed back into Black History Month due to snow day cancellations. “We thought it would be appropriate to blend it into our other celebrations for Black History Month,” said Marissa Douglas. Students gathered during anchor for the assembly to listen to an interactive speech by Dr. Karen Dade, Associate Dean and Professor at Western Washington. Before working in Bellingham, she graduated from Spelman College, the sister college to Morehouse where Martin Luther King Jr graduated, in Atlanta, Georgia. Aside from going to a historically balck university, Dr. Dade also studied under Christine King Ferris, King‘s sister. Douglas feels that, “we are so lucky to have this unique opportunity to listen to someone who has a strong connection to the works of King.” During Dr. Dade’s speech she discussed the discrimination that African Americans faced in America, along with how it influenced their culture today. She described this as a “dual life” because most of the modern African American practices are a mix of American and African traditions.
Aside from the mandatory assembly, the Diversity in Action club also hosted multiple movies that were informative on African American culture. On Friday, February 7th, they offered a free showing of Greenbook, a 2018 film based on a true story of the unlikely relationship between African American pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, and Italian bouncer, Tony “Lip,” in 1962. The story follows them as Dr. Shirley hires Tony to take him on tour down from New York City to the Deep South, and compares the different social environments. Aside from offering free admission and snacks, D.I.A. included an important discussion during intermission about the discrimination that students noticed within the film as well as historical trends that might have disintegrated from modern society. Students also learned a new term: Greenbook, which was a book of all of the establishments from restaurants to hotels, that would serve African Americans during the time period.
In addition, they showed The Hate You Give in the theatre on Friday, February 14th. This movie follows main character Starr Carter through her “dual life” living in a poor, primarily black neighborhood, while going to a prep school where the majority of her peers are white. She faces the tragedy of her childhood best friend being shot by police, which forces her to come to terms with her identity as a whole. This movie explores both the weaponizing of stereotypes against African Americans along with the cyclical nature of racialized poverty which were both important talking points during the intermission. Marissa Douglas stated that, “it is hard to find movies that are both school appropriate and relevant to our society. I think these ones are not only entertaining and keep the audience engaged, but also force exposure to important themes that we are fortunate enough to not see here in Bellingham.”
Even if students were unable to make it to the movie showings, they still had the opportunity to listen to many different genres of black music during both lunch periods on Fridays. DIA organized a diverse playlist of music by historically black artists anywhere from Celia Cruz to modern-day Childish Gambino. If you listen closely you can hear the different topics and stories that the singers describe about their black communities. There are also posters hung up throughout the hallways that advertise the many roles that colored people take in our community and achievements that they have made. These help show the impact that they have had on American society as well as their legacy.
Although black history is only legally celebrated throughout one month, it continues on all 365 days of the year. The Diversity in Action club has worked rigorously to honor the lives and legacies of many African Americans and help better inform student on what this month truly signifies from the perspective of the African American community, which is something that is not always weaved into our school curriculum.