On the eve of Black History Month, a teacher and her 70 high school seniors traveled from Baltimore city to visit the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture celebrate the launch of a new digital African American history program now being offered at their school.
As they eagerly poured into the Oprah Winfrey Theater, they found themselves up close and personal with famous artifacts and people they had only read about. After they toured the museum, they were surprised by Knicks players who also had come to the museum for a personal encounter with history.
These students were fortunate, but there are so many young people who will never feel the rush of emotions looking at Emmett Till’s casket or the sense of pride when looking at Michelle Obama’s inauguration dress.
History provides us with a collective memory and gives us a sense of connection to place, time and community. Yet, the representation and amplification of African American history—the figures and events that changed the fabric of America’s social and political identity—has often been overlooked in our national curriculum. According to a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center more than half of the states in this country are failing at teaching the civil rights movement to students.
Even as the 21st century unfolds, it’s rare that our teachers have the adequate tools to bring that history to life. However, stories of faith and identity, integrity, sacrifice, leadership, and legacy that are so prevalent throughout African American history can empower our youth and help them direct their own path; a powerful outcome for today’s uniquely multicultural and digitally native generation.
Together, we realized that if we truly want all young people to learn and benefit from these transformative moments in history, we have to make it personal for them. We leveraged technology to reimagine history by breathing life into leaders and events who influenced the course of history, not just for African-Americans but for all Americans. We challenge students who take our course to travel through time and reflect on how their identity has been shaped by the actions of these change makers.
Every day we ask students to go to school and learn principles that lay the foundation for the contributions they will make in society. There is no better way to achieve this than to create a personal online experience that gives them the opportunity to walk the path of great leaders who turned the impossible into the attainable. Every school can incorporate African-American history into their curriculum. In this digital area, there is no stopping us from meeting kids where they live and reimagining how they see themselves through the lens of history.