Kujichagulia! This is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa that represents self-determination. More specifically, this principle encourages African-Americans to define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves. Education is a powerful tool that can help us achieve this goal, and to preserve it for future generations. Unfortunately, the k-12 education system has been used to oppress black students by feeding us mythological concepts built on principles of white supremacy. This reality highlights historical issues that have been present in our k-12 education school systems across the country for decades! I will highlight the lack of representation in the classroom and its effect on black students, the effects that the k-12 education system has on black students by starting black history from slavery in school textbooks, and the importance of learning from an Afrocentric point of view.
First, it is important to highlight that black students who attend public schools suffer more due to a lack of resources and funding. This has been an issue for decades. Additionally, there is a tremendous need for black teachers in our schools today. According to Melinda D. Anderson, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, “The average U.S. teacher is white, female, and age 42 with approximately 14 years of experience.” Also, she articulated that more than 8 out of 10 teachers, approximately 81.9 percent, are white and fewer than one in 10, approximately 6.8 percent, are black. What a shame! This lack of representation affects our students’ ability to succeed. Most likely, the white teacher will not feel inclined to fully support their black students, and they will not go the extra mile to preach true black history. Therefore, we need teachers of color in the classroom. We need teachers who look like us to support us and pour into us real knowledge. Imagine the suffering our black boys experience. I was asked to speak on Buffalo’s Inaugural Urban Forum Panel when I was a senior in high school. I attended Leonardo da Vinci high school, which is a high school in the Buffalo Public School education system. We were asked to speak on our experiences as students of color in a public-school education system, and any racism we may have encountered. I vividly remember being asked if I thought the United States history textbook should be updated, and if I thought more teachers of color should be hired? I replied by stating although hired teachers should be selected based on skill, it is also just as important to hire black teachers. There are many exceptional black teachers in the world. It doesn’t align with the representation of teachers in the classroom, however. Having black teachers in the classroom makes black students feel comfortable. I believe they won’t be questioned or judged. They will be welcomed and understood as individuals. Following my initial response, I articulated the issue of having African-American studies as an elective. I stated that United States history was founded on the labor of African-Americans, therefore we should have already been incorporated in the text. Lastly, I mentioned how the text doesn’t reveal that specific civilizations mentioned were black civilizations. There are so many critiques that can be made about the United States history textbook used to teach our children in k-12 education across the country.
Furthermore, I mentioned the psychological damage created in the minds of black students by starting black history from slavery. Starting black history from slavery indirectly supports the black inferiority campaign. There is a book that provides an overview of the black inferiority campaign, and how propaganda created by institutions who support white supremacy have contributed to this false narrative. The book is titled, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, and was written by Tom Burrell. This programs black students to think that they are inferior to white students, and influences thoughts of self-doubt and low self-esteem. As a result, our students will start to develop a conscious that sets them far apart from their African heritage and recognizing their true history, and the power of our ancestors.
Finally, this leads me to an important revolutionary movement. For our black students to truly reap the benefits of a true education, they must learn from an Afrocentric point of view. For example, our black boys are naturally energetic and are hands-on learners. Classroom lectures are not always the best learning environments for our children, and these learning environments have origins in Eurocentric teachings. It is impossible to be intellectually gifted if our children do not learn from an Afrocentric point of view and are continuously fed myths such as Christopher Columbus being the first man to discover America. Africans were here before Christopher Columbus accidentally sailed to the continent. There’s a book that supports this truth as well. The book is titled They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, which was written by Ivan Van Sertima.
Ultimately, with all of this in mind, the existence of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is important today. HBCUs offer students of the black diaspora and African diaspora a safe learning environment that promotes true African-American history, African history, Caribbean history, and so much more. Howard University, an HBCU located in Washington, DC, has the famous Moorland Spingarn Research Center that contains rich history and books found nowhere else in the world. Such material cannot be checked out of Howard’s Founder’s Library, but only viewed. Most importantly, HBCUs erase all myths associated with the k-12 education system and connects black students more closely with their ancestral roots. Many students learn where their origins are and seize cultural nationalism. Lives are changed at HBCUs, and the bigger picture becomes clearer for black students in America!
I believe the k-12 education system is corrupt, but as a people, we must define and name ourselves, as well as create and speak for ourselves. Again, the Kwanzaa principle, Kujichagulia, symbolizes this narrative entirely. It is this narrative that causes us to fight against the injustices that are formulated in the education system across our country whose goal is to oppress our children. Paul Freire once said, “Education changes people. People change the world.” It is our duty to educate our black students with material that is factual so that they may grow older to change the world!