As a sophomore in high school, I heard my name being called over the school-wide intercom. “Roleen Bell, please report to the library.” The library? Ok, this can’t be for anything too bad. I took my sweet time, casually strolling down the long halls of Carmel High School, gleefully avoiding Algebra. In my mind, this had to be something urgent if it took me out of class. I was equally perplexed and intrigued.
When I reached my destination, the school librarian gave me a huge smile. She sheepishly admitted that this was not an emergency, but she did have a favor to ask me. “Your mom is an English teacher, right? Do you think she has any books she can donate to our library for our Black History Month display?” I realized that it was January 30th, a couple of days before February. With an internal eye-roll, I contemplated giving her a snarky response. Instead, I politely smiled back and told her I would ask my mother that evening.
That was the first time since I’d lived in Carmel that any teacher had mentioned Black History Month. Everything I learned about my African-American culture was taught to me by my parents. My mother is a role-model educator, and my father (a pastor and counselor) was a lifetime learner. They kept our home library filled with various books of all cultures. I had designated books to read as a supplement to the Caucasian-centered curriculum I received at Carmel High School. Every time I read, I got lost in the rich history of my ancestors. What strength, courage, and wisdom they had. I was in awe.
My parents both instilled pride in me and I walked around our suburbia bubble with my little brown chin tilted toward the sky. I, admittedly, had a charmed childhood and I appreciate the benefits of my upbringing. My memories from Carmel are those of joy and friendship; however, I was black in an all-white world and no one ever talked about race. Sure, we talked about slavery and segregation, but that’s where it ended. I knew there was so much more to Black history, and I wished everyone else knew too.
Now, entering my eleventh year as a teacher, I proudly look back at the diverse curriculum my students have learned. I celebrate all races, all year long. February will always be dear to my heart, though. In a country where black people are rarely celebrated, this month sheds light on the contributions of African-Americans in history. I teach in an urban setting, and my class this year is all black. My impact with students of any color would be great, but I feel an intense sense of duty to this particular class.
My students and I are Black History in the making.
I see the pride in my students’ eyes when we learn about accomplishments made by people who look like them. I see the same pride in my eight-year-old daughter’s eyes when she reads about Rosetta Tharpe, Angela Davis, and Misty Copeland. These women look like us, and they are celebrated. Little brown eyes learn about these journeys and realize that their dreams can also come true.
I’ve come a long way from that long walk down to my high school library. I create my own cultural displays, and I don’t limit them to February. Even still, this month makes me feel celebrated; I want my students and children at home to feel the same sense of pride. They are black history. I am black history.