Protesters march through the streets of D.C. in early June 2020.

Protesters march through the streets of D.C. in early June 2020.

In a year of pandemic and protest, the need for education in Black history has become even more critical. But what students in the United States learn depends almost entirely on where they live. “Many teachers say they feel ill-prepared to teach about the subject, and textbooks often provide scant — or skewed — information,” Hannah Natanson wrote in The Washington Post.

We hear from two educators about how they’re teaching Black history in the classrooms, and why it matters.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Greg Carr Chair, Dept. of Afro-American Studies, Howard University; @AfricanaCarr
  • Lesley Younge Teacher, Maret School


  • 12:00:17

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. In a year of pandemic and protests the need for education in Black history has become even more critical. Today is the first in our Kojo Connects series on race and social justice and we're talking about teaching Black history with two educators, who are doing just that. Joining us is Greg Carr, Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. Dr. Carr, always a pleasure.

  • 12:00:46

    GREG CARRReal pleasure to be back with you again, Kojo. Thank you.

  • 12:00:49

    NNAMDIAlso speaking with Lesley Younge who is a Teacher at the Maret School. Lesley Younge, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:55

    LESLEY YOUNGEThank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

  • 12:00:59

    NNAMDIGreg Carr, what did you learn about Black history when you were in school? Was it part of the curriculum?

  • 12:01:05

    CARRNot really, Kojo. I mean, I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. And at 55 years old I was really in that first generation that was bused. And I think my classmates and I we all experienced some of the after lie of American apartheid, legal apartheid, and in going into classrooms with some very important and notable exceptions, heroic teachers. Many of them young Black women, who made sure we got some instruction particularly later on in high school.

  • 12:01:34

    CARRI think about Genie Scott and Barbara Grey and some others at Hillsboro High School in Nashville, but in the early years, very little, very little. In fact, I can remember as a child in elementary school being drafted into pageants, into class assemblies and programs where we would actually sing some of the old songs from the old days of the lost cause. You know, John Henry, black boys in t-shirts swinging makeshift hammers singing John Henry.

  • 12:02:04

    CARRAnd I remember one time we revived the old Broadway tune without a change in the lyric. I can distinctly remember singing "A darky is born, but he ain't no Good without a song." And so I don't think my experience was particularly an outlier really, our history came from our community, our church, our family and our communities, but not in the schools.

  • 12:02:24

    NNAMDIWhen did you know you wanted to teach and to teach African American studies specifically?

  • 12:02:30

    CARROh, wow, brother. I blame some of that on your generation. I think that Black power movement in the 70s and the 80s drug me into it. By the time I made it to law school at Ohio State -- after my second -- summer of my second year I clerked at NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York. And every Saturday I would go to Harlem, 135th and Convent, for a meeting of one of the most important study groups we've seen in Black community, the First World Alliance, John Henik Clarke, Yosef Ben-Jochannan and so many others. And I remember distinctly the summer Saturday I sat in front of John Henik Clarke and he said, "All I ever wanted to be was a great classroom teacher like my third grade teacher Ms. Evelina Taylor."

  • 12:03:09

    CARRAnd something clicked. I came back to Ohio finished my law degree and immediately enrolled in my master's program in Black studies. Manning Marable was the Chair of Afro-American Studies at Ohio State at the time. And I said, I'm going to spend the rest of my life in the classroom. And so much respect to sister Lesley and that work, because it's those early years. It has stamped its imprint on John Henrik Clarke and all those years later he remembered that third grade teacher and said, that's what I wanted to do. And it changed my life.

  • 12:03:34

    NNAMDIYou mentioned some of my favorite names, John Henrik Clarke, Yosef Ben-Jochannan and here in Washington we had Chancellor Williams, who was educating us all. Lesley Younge, what was your education in Black history like growing up?

  • 12:03:48

    YOUNGEWell, I think I agree with Dr. Carr that it came from the community. I grew up in L.A. I was born in Inglewood. And we moved out to Walnut, which was a very diverse suburb in the 80s. And I went to small private religious based schools. And honestly, expect for learning California history and doing the class admission project, I really couldn't tell you what the curriculum was. But we belonged to Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles and we were there three or four times a week. And our pastor was Jim Lawson. He was a member of the civil rights movement.

  • 12:04:26

    YOUNGEAnd that was a powerful experience having him as our pastor. And there was a lot Black history infused into our Sunday school and into our sermons and the services themselves. There was a lot of programming around that. And my own family had a lot of genealogists. And so at family reunions we would talk a lot about our own family's history. I learned a lot that way.

  • 12:04:50

    YOUNGEAnd then I was also involved in Jack and Jill and the mothers of our chapter really took that opportunity to put together a lot of Black history programming for us. And so it felt like it was all around me all of the time. I don't think it was happening at school. It might have been, but I don't remember those experiences. I remember the ones that my community and my family provided for me the most.

  • 12:05:16

    NNAMDIAnd talk about how more you learned about history as you moved on, because while James Lawson was pastor and talked a lot about civil rights and participated it wasn't until later you realized just how deeply involved he was in the civil rights movement.

  • 12:05:30

    YOUNGEYeah. I mean, you're a kid and your pastor is like, I was in the civil rights movement. You're like, Okay, yeah. He is one of the thousands of marchers. Or, you know, He was standing near the pool at the March on Washington. But actually "March" the book by John Lewis, the graphic novel is part of a sixth grade curriculum I was teaching. And I was pre-reading it in preparation for working through that unit with my class. And I came to the part in the graphic novel where they had drawn him in and showed him with John Lewis talking about having gone to India and learning about Gandhi and nonviolence and bringing that back to the movement and being one of the instructors of nonviolence to the other students at SNIK.

  • 12:06:14

    YOUNGEAnd I was like, Oh, he was a civil rights leader, leader. And I really didn't get that until then. And I went back and asked my parents. And they're like, Oh, yeah, he's still doing workshops at church. And so I started to -- it's like every third or fourth Saturday he does these nonviolence workshops. They're over Zoom. People can go to the Holman United Methodist website and still study nonviolence with Reverend James Lawson.

  • 12:06:39

    NNAMDIYes, that's when the local pastor's reputation expanded. When did you know you wanted to be a teacher? And what about teaching engaged you most?

  • 12:06:48

    YOUNGEI think I have always loved working with kids. I was a babysitter and a tutor in high school. But I think when I went away to college I imagined I would do something in marketing or advertising. And even that led me back to working with children. And so I was working in an afterschool program called Torch of New York City. I just loved working with the students and providing them with experiences that let them dream. That was just really awesome.

  • 12:07:16

    YOUNGEAnd so I thought, okay, well, maybe I'll do out of school education, museum education. And I went to Bank Street, which is in New York City. It's a graduate school of education and a laboratory school. And as part of my museum education experience I did a classroom internship. And, again, working with the students was just fantastic. And so despite my intentions I became a classroom teacher and have just loved every experience of it since.

  • 12:07:46

    NNAMDIWell, I grew up in a British colony in South America in the Caribbean called British Guiana and all the history that I was taught up until I was about 16 years old was British history. And then they introduced a British book about West Indian history and taught us that that was West Indian history. It wasn't until an innovative teacher came along and started teaching us of about all things, the Haitian Revolution in 1804. That was when my interest in history was awakened, because the story of Toussaint Louverture and Dessalines and that revolution is what awakened me. So it's clear that it didn't matter where you were or are in the world, you weren't learning a great deal about Black history. Here's Noelle in Washington D.C. Noelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:08:36

    NOELLEGreetings. Thank you, Kojo, and happy Black History Month to everyone. My comment is even though we did hear about Black history in school and what not, it blows my mind to think of which figures they always wanted to reiterate. And it was always George Washington Carver with the peanuts and the peanut butter and Rosa Parks with sitting down. But it was so rare that we heard about like Steve Biko and like Stokely Carmichael and Ida B. Wells. And I think it was like -- there was still so much activism there.

  • 12:09:08

    NOELLEI feel like I'm trying to, you know, shut down what George Washington Carver did. But I'm like, you're keeping us focused on peanut butter and Rosa Parks. And what they also didn't elaborate was Rosa Parks was already an activist. She had been attending -- I'm drawing like on some of the names now. So that wasn't just one day she decided, worn out. That was her using her agency and at that moment saying, here's what I've been going to meetings for. Here's what we've been standing up for. Here's a moment where I use my agency and I'm going to sit in the front.

  • 12:09:36

    NOELLEThat was not that she was so worn out with, I'm so tired of this. Today I'm doing something different. And we didn't even go deep into what Rosa Parks was really all about and where she got her start. So I just wanted to make my comment about who we decide to keep saying, Oh this is who you look at in Black history. It's more than peanut butter and it's more than just someone -- than the lady that sat on the bus that day. There's a lot more to research. So I encourage educators and curricula to please get working on that and thank you for this topic.

  • 12:10:08

    NNAMDIWell, during the Black Power movement we were taught that Rosa Parks' history had been whitewashed. Greg, we're of the belief here that celebration and coverage of a group of people should not be confined to a single Month. But February is Black History Month. What do you recommend our listeners make time for this February?

  • 12:10:27

    CARRWell, I mean, a simple recommendation would be to start with the 1933 collection of essays published by the man who came up with the idea for Black History Month in 1926 and that would be Carter G. Woodson's "The Mis-Education of the Negro." Dr. Woodson, in fact, of course, this was during segregation, the segregated schools, did a pretty good job of teaching Black history.

  • 12:10:48

    CARRAnd one of the things that Dr. Woodson wanted to do with his association, which of course is still responsible now for Black History Month, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is to use February. The second week of February marking the birthdates of Lincoln and Douglas to celebrate what had been studied the whole year. And when you look at the bulletin that the association published for school teachers and children -- really the Negro History Bulletin, every year they would start in the fall. They'd have an October blurb and say, all right you all, let's get together because if we don't have anything that we studied when it comes to February we will not celebrate.

  • 12:11:24

    CARRAnd the last thing Woodson wrote before he made transition right there in 9th Street in D.C. in the District was an essay called "No Study and Consequently No Celebration." And he said, "Everybody calling for orators during Negro History Week is missing the point, because all these orators talk about is the race problem and how it can be solved." And to Noelle's point he said, "Instead of celebrating what we've studied the whole year, which includes the inspirational stories of Negro history, which will inspire our youth and instruct them to be able to problem solve in the world we face."

  • 12:11:58

    CARRSo I'd say if I just had one book for a February conversation start with Carter G. Woodson. I think you'd be surprised to realize that he would probably look at today and say, "Wait, this is the exact opposite of what I wanted in Negro History Week," and then of course Black History Month after 1976 to be.

  • 12:12:15

    NNAMDIAnd, of course, when you start moving around again Cultural Tourism D.C. has Carter Woodson's house on 9th Street that Greg mentioned as one of the sites that you can visit. But if you'd like to join this conversation about teaching Black history call us at 800-433-8850. Did you attend a historically Black college or university? Shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:13:12

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about teaching Black history with Lesley Younge who is a Teacher at the Maret School here in Washington. And Greg Carr is Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. I'd like to start this time by going to Gene in Alexandria, Virginia. Gene, you're turn. Hi, Gene, you're on the air.

  • 12:13:34

    GENE (CALLER0Hi. Am I on the air?

  • 12:13:38

    NNAMDIYes. You are.

  • 12:13:39

    (CALLER0Okay. Sorry. I'm actually in Vienna. That's what confused me.

  • 12:13:43


  • 12:13:44

    (CALLER0I just wanted to weigh in as a person who grew up in a very white town as a white person in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We did not have Black history in the curriculum. Just maybe sort of incidentally and this was in the 50s and 60s. But I went to American U, which you all are very familiar with. And we had a wonderful class taught by a visiting professor from Howard in Black literature. In the interim, what I did as a teenager was teach myself Black history through the public library. And that was my access and gave me a background that unfortunately schools didn't give me. So I'm really heartened to hear the work that's going on to put it as part of the curriculum.

  • 12:14:36

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Greg Carr, what effect has the failure to understand the history of race and racism had on people in this country?

  • 12:14:46

    CARRWell, I think it's certainly made us all the poorer for not being able to have a deeper appreciation of our common humanity through the particular lens of all of our different cultural experiences, but I think it hasn't really prevented the continuing unfolding of this American experiment. And by that I mean people find ways to resist depression. And we know curriculum is probably as much and more about socialization as it is about anything else.

  • 12:15:14

    CARRAnd so the impact of really not integrating and by integrating including the stories and the voices of all the folk in this country, what it's done is probably forestall the working out of those central tensions that have always been present in this (unintelligible). I mean, one quick example. When in the 1619 project and other kind of contemporary conversations folks say that slavery is America's original sin. I often think, well, what are our first nation's kin thinking at this point, because it becomes an attempt to battle over narrative.

  • 12:15:47

    CARRAnd then it becomes an attempt to fight over pride of place. You know, I wouldn't for example start this conversation in 1776 or 1619. For me the real founding of the United States as a possible project is maybe 1860-1861. It's the civil war and reconstruction. But the kind of ordinal preoccupation is really I think about the power to define. So when we do not include everyone then we're all fighting over pride of place as a marker for the ability to get to shape the narrative. And it just doesn't do us any good ultimately.

  • 12:16:25

    NNAMDILesley Younge, what in your view do we risk by not understanding our history and in particular the history of Black people in this country and as Greg Carr pointed out, the history of Native Americans?

  • 12:16:40

    YOUNGEI think we fail to understand ourselves. Part of my practice in my classroom is just to give students a place to understand themselves and their place in this world. I think education is really personal. And by studying many different kinds of people through many identities and many lenses I think students start to see themselves as multifaceted people with a lot of different angles. And I think when they can appreciate themselves in that capacity, they can appreciate others. I think it's the building block of empathy. I think when our curriculums are not diverse enough, when they don't include Black history, when they don't include indigenous history, students catch on that something's missing. Something is missing.

  • 12:17:31

    YOUNGEAnd those things that are missing become like holes and they become holes in their own identity, and they become holes in their empathetic self. They become blind spots. They become blind spots and so as they're engaging in the world, they're thinking, why don't I know about this? Why don't I understand this? Why is this causing so much conflict in me? Why can't I approach this with openness? What is going on? And I think that's why we have so people who are like, why didn't my school ever teach me this history? Why didn't they teach me this person? Why didn't they teach me this place? Why don't I know these things? And it feels like a blind spot in their experience and they know they're missing out.

  • 12:18:12

    YOUNGEKids know they're missing out and they think when adults grow up and don't have these foundational histories, they don't have these frameworks for understanding other people, they know that there are gaps and that there are lost opportunities.

  • 12:18:26

    NNAMDIGreg Carr, what we often see in schools are sanitized versions of history. This question can be for you too, Lesley Younge. You know, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Dr. King made a speech. Why is it important for children to learn the unvarnished truth about our history and our country?

  • 12:18:44

    CARRWell, that's interesting, Kojo. I mean, there's obviously no way for all of us or any of us to know all the facts. So narrative is at the center of curriculum, right? When we wrote the curriculum framework for the mandatory African American history course in Philadelphia high schools we were after a single objective, I think. And that was have our students, have our teachers, have our communities ask better questions, because I agree with Lesley 100 percent. Once folks realize that there are different answers and different ways to interpret the same facts, they're not satisfied with one way.

  • 12:19:18

    CARRSo we spent a lot of time coming up with six basic categories of questions and we said, if you put this in front of students, they will then consult the textbooks realizing that those silences are there. So you ask, for example, Who is Rosa Parks to the white citizens of Montgomery and the white power structure? And you get one answer. That's the answer they may see in their textbook. Then you ask, who is she to her community? And when those stories start coming out the students start realizing, wait a minute. We can ask these two questions of all of our books?

  • 12:19:46

    CARRAbsolutely. The problem then is a problem of turning them off, which you don't want to do. They're not going to be satisfied. Better questions inevitably lead to better answers. And, you know, I think that's really what we have to get to and that's the way to solve that kind of problem. And actually I want to say one other thing. The materials exist. Carter Woodson's first textbook "The Negro in our History" was printed in 1922. These contemporary conversations about exclusions, they tend not to tap into the momentum of the archive. This work has been done every generation.

  • 12:20:20

    CARRAnd in Black communities every generation's work is almost gets erased when contemporary conversations come into play. And people are saying they're making novel discoveries. This really isn't novel. You can consult the archive and use that momentum.

  • 12:20:35

    NNAMDILesley Younge, kind of same question to you. Why is it important for children to learn the unvarnished truth about our history and our country?

  • 12:20:43

    YOUNGEI think it goes back again to making sure they can see themselves in ways that are helpful. When we try to craft perfect heroes that are sanitized or whitewashed or curated in particular ways that often serves the purpose of institutions honestly. I mean, these individuals are complex people with complex histories and lives. And when we start selecting out who we're going to list up and in what ways we're going to list them up, often those choices are made in service to the institution not to the children that we're actually teaching.

  • 12:21:18

    YOUNGESo I think when we teach children who people are fully, we allow children to be themselves fully, to see themselves fully that they don't have to be perfect to be leaders that they don't have to perfect to join with others and care about issues in the world and be concerned and act. They don't have to wait until they're perfect people to make a difference.

  • 12:21:38

    YOUNGEAnd so I think when we try to portray our leaders as perfect people, we limit the potential that children see in themselves. And I do think that's really dangerous.

  • 12:21:50

    NNAMDIHere is Eber in Washington D.C. Eber, you're on the air. You only have about a minute before we go to break. But go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:57

    EBERHi, thank you, Kojo, for providing this critical space. My name is Eber and I just wanted to take this opportunity to share with everyone that -- of an opportunity for educators. So I've had the pleasure of working with the WNDC education foundation, who recently published their 2021 physical calendar Women of Color and the Fight for the Vote. So this calendar traces how women of color particularly African American Women have worked toward this moment from Sojourner Truth to Jarena Lee to Kamala Harris.

  • 12:22:30

    EBERThis calendar is available to all educators. And along with the calendar my fellow educator colleague and a Howard grad Mia Ferguson and the 2019 National History Teacher of the Year Alicia Butler, we are hosting a free virtual professional development meet-up and collaboration space next Wednesday February 10th at 4:00 p.m. where we will discuss how can we integrate Black history, particularly Black women in the classroom in classroom curriculum.

  • 12:22:58

    NNAMDIOkay. All right. Go to take a short break. Thank you for your call. You too can join this conversation. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to How would you rate what you learned in school about Black history? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing teaching black history with Dr. Greg Carr, who is chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, and Lesley Younge, who's a teacher at the Maret School.

  • 12:23:53

    NNAMDICynthia emails: I think as a result of when I grew up and where, I'm now 59, I received a healthy dose of black history. I grew up here in D.C. and spent my first six years at an all-black Seventh Day Adventist school, where I learned black historians and black spirituals. I transferred to public school in the seventh grade in 1974, and that's where I learned all the verses of "Lift Every Voice and Sing." And in eighth grade, black history was a required course.

  • 12:24:19

    NNAMDIWe had the benefit of being taught by teachers who were around and may have been part of the civil rights movement, and that filtered into the D.C. public schools at the time. You will hear that from a lot of students in D.C. who went to school, especially, during that time. But, Lesley, Younge, talk a little bit about the resources that you rely on. What's available, and what are you excited about as a teacher?

  • 12:24:43

    YOUNGEWell, I mean, there just has never been more material. (laugh) There's never been more material out there. Of course, I really love materials from the Zinn Education Project and Teaching for Change. I think those are great places to start, because they are not only going to have real unvarnished true history that teachers can read about and gain background for their own knowledge, but they're going to have interactive activities like simulations and roleplays that really engage students.

  • 12:25:12

    YOUNGETeaching Tolerance recently changed its name to Learning for Justice. So, that's a great website. Facing History has wonderful resources, as well. There are incredible -- I'm an English teacher now, as well as a math teacher, and so there are incredible books. I just read a picture book that I can't wait to bring to my sixth graders. They sometimes let me read to them about Kathryn Johnson. And it's a gorgeous book linking her math work to NASA. And, of course, a lot of them have seen "Hidden Figures."

  • 12:25:42

    YOUNGEAnd so, there's so many ways to bring it in. There's just a lot of really wonderful material being printed, being produced. The 1619 project, the Pulitzer Center has excellent resources. The New York Times, I found wonderful things on The New York Times education website. There's just some really fantastic resources out there for teachers.

  • 12:26:04

    YOUNGEAnd so, teachers don't need to feel like they have to go it alone, or like they need to make up their own thing. I think there are many, many entry points for all of us, whether you are someone who is just starting to learn about black history or figure out how to put that into your classroom, or whether you've been doing it for years.

  • 12:26:23

    YOUNGEAnd I found that, over the years, I've been asked to teach different things. I've taught fourth grade, I've taught sixth grade, I've taught seventh grade English, history, math, combined humanities. And each time has presented a new opportunity for me to look at a curriculum with fresh eyes and say, where can this history connect? Where can this history become relevant for my students? Where are the skills that they need to learn aligned with the black history that I want to teach? And so, I've been able to do it over the last 15 years in many different ways, and it's always been an exciting part of the practice for me.

  • 12:27:00

    NNAMDIYou can find more educational resources for black history on our web page, That's Here is Lenny, in Annapolis. Lenny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:27:15

    LENNYHello, Kojo. My question is kind of a macro question. So, my own experience, when I was growing up in New York and I was exposed to black history, is that it tended to focus nearly 100 percent on African-American history, rather than (unintelligible) black history in general. And I'm wondering if that has expanded since then. I mean, it's been a long time since I was in, you know, elementary school and high school and all that.

  • 12:27:43

    LENNYSo, does that include -- does black history today, as it is taught -- at least in the experience of your people there -- is it, in a general, world context? You know, does it include the Caribbean? Does it include things of that sort? I mean, does my question make sense?

  • 12:27:58

    NNAMDIVery much so. Greg Carr.

  • 12:28:00

    CARROh, yes, absolutely. I think there is a heavy nativist orientation to American curriculum in general. And I think that is one of the most difficult things for us to grapple with. And I think about when you say you grew up in New York, I'm thinking about the fight in Ocean Hill-Brownsville back in the late '60s, early '70s, which led to organizations, like the East in Brooklyn. A lot of these black organizations, outside of school and during segregation in school, will always be global in scope, always international.

  • 12:28:33

    CARRSo, you know, Kojo, you mentioned, of course, Toussaint Louverture. When you look back at the segregated schools, you had a number of black schools that taught about Toussaint. And, of course, it's no accident in D.C. -- from the late 19th century, up through the 1960s -- in a lot of those schools, during segregation, they learned black history as an international proposition.

  • 12:28:57

    CARRAll you have to do is go back and look through the pages of the Negro History Bulletin, which was published right there on 9th Street, out of Woodson's house. And you understand that the history was always internationalist. But the problem we have, I think, in this country is that the project of curriculum in public education in particular is one to reinforce the national project.

  • 12:29:18

    CARRAnd so, the black history that will be taught -- or the history that we taught, anyway -- would really turn into footnotes for that kind of nativist, American exceptionalist project, which is why I thoroughly agree with Zinn Education, Teaching for Change are very important. And it's also why I think there's problematic at the heart of projects like the 1619 Project, which, in some ways ironically, agree with some of the thrust of a 1776 Commission, with kind of a nativist American exceptionalist narrative woven into the objectives of the project.

  • 12:29:52

    CARRAnd so, there's plenty of stuff out there to refute that, but it hasn't worked its way into the curriculum yet, because this country is one that has never come to terms with the idea of being part of the world community. Not at the level of education of its young.

  • 12:30:05

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Lenny. Here is Altaf, in Northern Virginia. Altaf, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:12

    ALTAFThank you so much, Kojo. And I want to say hello to my brother, Greg Carr. I'm a professor in the School of Social Work at Howard University. And we have something called The Black Prospective that we teach to our students. What I just wanted to share was how interesting it is as a South Asian of Indian descent -- someone, again, from a formerly colonized, if you will, part of the world -- to try to first understand and then to really share with the students the importance of knowing the roots. Where did we come from?

  • 12:30:44

    ALTAFAnd what's amazing is that we're an historically black college. And you would assume that, okay, students will know. Oftentimes -- and I teach courses on homelessness, disasters, immigrants, refugees -- when I start with the great migration, they oftentimes don't know what I'm talking about. And I'm talking about the enslaved coming from Africa. I'm talking about the movement from south to north.

  • 12:31:04

    ALTAFSo, the thing I wanted to share is that it's really critical for us to keep going at this and not take for granted that even African-American children -- because they're so removed now from the civil right movement -- will know this, and then give them resources. I want to conclude by saying, thank you, Kojo, for having this show, Greg Carr, of course, and Lesley. And then please visit the Conscious Kid Library. Conscious Kid Library. A former Howard School of Social Work student started that organization to be able to give resources to people, especially, you know, teachers, on teaching our children through the children's books and featuring authors of color. Thank you again, Kojo.

  • 12:31:41

    NNAMDIAltaf, thank you very much for your call. Lesley Younge, what does it mean to teach the collective?

  • 12:31:49

    YOUNGETeach the collective. So, I think this goes back to the previous caller's comment that, when we start to choose individuals and we start to curate them in particular ways, we lose out on important narratives. It's about those individuals, but also about the ways in which they're supported by communities. And so there have been some really great articles that have changed my thinking about this. And I think it's important as a teacher to always be willing to shift. And so, thinking about the ways in which people were working together feels really important right now.

  • 12:32:24

    YOUNGEThis past summer -- which has, you know, sort of been billed as another freedom summer -- it was done by groups that often say that they are leaderless, or that they have collective leadership, or they want to keep their leaders hidden out of safety. And I think that that has become an important conversation, looking back at history and where did we single people out, when truly, they were working with groups of people. And so how does it become important to look at SNCC as a whole and all of the different people who liked SNCC about its time.

  • 12:32:55

    YOUNGEHow do we look at the Montgomery bus boycott as a collective experience, where lots of people worked together to accomplish a goal? I think it takes the pressure off of all these individual heroes to be perfect. And I think it's a far more inspiring story for our students when they think about, it's not that I have to rise up and lead the charge. I just need to look and see who's around me that I can get together with, think with, innovate with. And that it's a project of working together. It's not competitive. It's not individualistic.

  • 12:33:29

    YOUNGEAnd, in that spirit, it's really kind of anti-white supremacist, right, this individualist American narrative that gets lifted up. It's contradicted when we talk about the collective. And I think that that's always been a strength of the black community, to work as a collective. And I'd love to see that talked about and taught more.

  • 12:33:47

    NNAMDIGreg Carr, same question to you, and that is, the way I was taught history is not history of individuals, but it's a history of movements.

  • 12:33:58

    CARRAbsolutely. But I think, once again, the borders of the American nation state are very quickly overflowed when that approach is taken. We can take the two examples that you raised, Lesley, SNCC. And you know this well, Kojo, better probably than I do, I'm sure. SNCC overflows the boundaries of the United States very quickly. And how that -- but it's still narrated as this kind of attempt by these young black folk to perfect American Democracy.

  • 12:34:25

    CARRWell, I mean, when you start going through the documents and allow the archive to speak, and even listen to the living memory of folks who are still around, I feel like a person who's on my dissertation committee, Marimba Ani. She was Dona Moses during SNCC.

  • 12:34:39

    CARRAnd, of course, I think about SNCC's turn to Africa and the Caribbean, an internationalist turn. That overflows the boundaries of the American nation-state and becomes problematic that, even when we started talking about collective history, it's hard to square that with this notion of American exceptionalism.

  • 12:34:55

    CARRAnd the example of the Montgomery bus boycott, well, you know, I was just looking at a piece called "Reflections of Our Past," here, which is a little book that was published by the folk who were the congregation of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. And when they start talking about the fact that the folks who were raising money put that money in about 10 black banks around the country to buy the cars that they used, for example, in the Montgomery bus boycott, and when you start looking at the fact that Kwame Nkrumah invited Martin and Coretta King to Ghana in 1956 to attend his installation as the first prime minister, and King gives a sermon to talk about that -- you know, when you start talking about collective history and African-American history, the overflowing of the boundaries threatens to upset that master narrative. And when you take on white supremacy from that global perspective and tie it to the actual lived experiences of those communities, that's problematic that I don't know if we'll ever be able to really approach.

  • 12:35:52

    NNAMDIYou're so right. As former SNCC activists who first introduced me to Pan-Africanism, even though there were people from the Caribbean like CLR James and George Padmore who had written about it before, I didn't even discover them until after my interaction with former SNCC activists. So, here now is Shauka, in Greenbelt. Shauka, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:14

    SHAUKAGood afternoon, Kojo. How are you?

  • 12:36:17

    NNAMDII am well, my friend.

  • 12:36:19

    SHAUKAAnd good afternoon Ms. Younge. I've never met you, but I like you already. And to the superstar, Greg Carr, good afternoon to you, Babo. (sounds like)

  • 12:36:28

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Shauka.

  • 12:36:30

    SHAUKAYeah, I had actually got very lucky. When I came from Guyana, Kojo, and went to high school in Beltsville, Maryland, High Point High School, there was a teacher there by the name of Edna McClellan. (sounds like) She was actually the first one that called me Shauka, and she taught me -- in many, many classes -- a lot about our history, both here in the United States and on the continent.

  • 12:36:53

    SHAUKAAnd as Dr. Carr was talking about this overflow of the boundary, she was the reason I went to Lincoln University. Don't worry about it. I'm also (word?), but I went to Lincoln first. And one of the reasons I went to Lincoln because Kwame Nkrumah and Nnamdi Azikiwe had gone to Lincoln. And, of course, I got that from Ms. McClellan, you know.

  • 12:37:13

    SHAUKASo, you know, I spent 14 years as a teacher in Prince George's County. I'm now retired, but I'm doing something called Today in African History with Baba Shauka (sounds like) on YouTube. My wife actually set up a YouTube channel. I don't know much about it, but she set up a YouTube channel. I sit in front of the camera every day. And the goal is for us to do 365 lessons this year.

  • 12:37:38

    NNAMDIOh, cool for you.

  • 12:37:38

    SHAUKASo far, we've done 35.

  • 12:37:41

    NNAMDIVery good for you. Shauka, thank you very much for your call and for sharing that with us. Nnamdi Azikiwe was also educated at Howard, too. Lesley Younge, why is it so important, in your view, for educators to teach not just black history, but black futures. And please explain what that means.

  • 12:37:59

    YOUNGEI will. I also just want to add that my grandfather was from Buxton, Guyana. He was a teacher before he became a doctor. And my aunt, Sheila Wilson, was also a teacher. So, I come from a family of teachers from Guyana. And I should just add that in. So, I'm connecting so much with things that you and the callers are talking about.

  • 12:38:17

    NNAMDI(overlapping) I always say that for a country with such a small population, less than a million people, we pop up everywhere. But go ahead, please, Lesley.

  • 12:38:25

    YOUNGE(laugh) Everywhere. Okay. So, black futurism, I think, has this very cool aspect right now that is very -- I teach middle school, so we're always, like, needing to be cool. We always have to tap into what is interesting to them. And I think there are some incredible artists and authors that are very appealing to students right now that are working in both Afro-futurism and African futurism, which was coined by Nnedi Okorafor. She just has a new book called "Remote Control" that I'm really interested in checking out.

  • 12:39:01

    YOUNGEBut I think these things are very appealing to students, because they're modern, they're rooted, and now they're rooted in science fiction, with fantasy, which they're always really interested in. But they connect back to culture. They connect back to history. And I think you can make some very cool ties when you want to talk to students about let's imagine futures while we're grounded in our present work and learning so much from the past. I think Afro-futurism as an academic opportunity in school helps us connect those threads for kids in ways that they find appealing and attractive.

  • 12:39:38

    NNAMDIGreg Carr, we can't have a conversation about Afro-futurism without you weighing in because all of this history is really about crafting the future, isn't it?

  • 12:39:48

    CARRAbsolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely, Kojo. You know, we consult the archive of memory in many ways to recruit assistance from the past in writing the future. I mean, going back to pivotal moments in the past and imagining the roads not taken -- the betrayal of Reconstruction, for example -- I mean, and saying what would've happened if we had done this instead of that, often charts a course where imagining what we can do now.

  • 12:40:15

    CARRAnd so, you know, Afro-futurism, I mean, you can go back to the 19th century, Sutton Griggs' novel, black novelist, "Imperium in Imperio." What would a black empire look like? George Schuyler for that, in "Black Empire." I mean, come forward into the 1960s and '70s, you know, look at everybody from Sun Ra to, you know, the imaginings of those writing in the '70s and '80s, thinking through the possibilities, but they grounded -- even movies for K-12 students like "Nightjohn," where, you know, you transported back to the past on a plantation and folks teaching people how to read. The point I'm trying to make is that, what you said is so true, all history, in many ways, is about the future. And the fights over curriculum are really fights about the possibilities of the making of the world we want to live in.

  • 12:41:03

    CARRAnd so, ultimately, I think, you know, when we talk about the question of curriculum, the question of narrative and choices, we're really talking about power, the ability to choose. And not only the ability to achieve as individuals, which is why I think this is really, I agree, it's problematic talking about just heroic individuals -- but really the possibilities to transform the society we live in that can celebrate a Kamala Harris at the same time it can tolerate poverty for countless -- well, not countless -- but millions of folk, millions of folk. And, you know, Afro-futurism is about imagining a better world. And the seeds for it lie in the world that was imagined in the past.

  • 12:41:42

    NNAMDILesley Younge, the past year will undoubtedly be written into the history books to talk about the events, the pandemic, the black lives matter protests, but because we don't have a great deal of time left, how did your students respond when they saw these events unfolding right here in the city, in particular as the insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on January 6th?

  • 12:42:07

    YOUNGEThey were frightened. They were frightened. And I think something that made them -- that heightened their fear was the fact that the adults didn't understand it, either. Or the adults did understand it, and were really nervous to talk to them about true things that were happening, the levels of white supremacy and division and misinformation and disinformation that are occurring at levels that even the adults are struggling to process.

  • 12:42:39

    YOUNGESo, I think there has been a lot of fear. I think that our children are incredibly resilient, and so they press forward. But it's a really good time to check in on our kids and make sure that we're giving them opportunities to talk through the specific things that they are thinking about and worried about, while at the same time, you know, making sure as the adults, we're taking care of ourselves so that we can be there for them, too.

  • 12:43:06

    NNAMDIGregg Carr, I'm thinking about Reconstruction and what role the Klan played in getting rid of Reconstruction. How should the Trump -- years in this past year and these past few weeks -- be viewed in historical terms?

  • 12:43:22

    CARRWell, Kojo, certainly not as an aberration. I think probably more as a retreat to the mean. I mean, you know, the gap between 2016 and 2020 is, in many ways, a response to the previous eight years in terms of the presidency of Barack Obama. Policy aside, just the optics of it, that looks very similar. If you start talking about American history as recent as 50 years, or 60, 70 years. The Southern Manifesto in 1957, going forward, there hasn't been a white majority in this country vote for a Democrat for president since 1968.

  • 12:43:55

    CARRYou can look for the roots of Donald Trump not just in the Regan presidency, but the Wallace candidacy of '72. So, I think we have to view it not only years from now with the benefit of having had some time to think about it, we have to view it also in the context of the longer arc of American history.

  • 12:44:15

    CARRThere's a rhythm to history, if you are attuned to searching for the rhythm. And once you can do that, you can not only predict what will happen next in some ways, you can then work to alter that rhythm. But to isolate this moment and look at it as an aberration, I think that's to repeat the mistakes of the past.

  • 12:44:35

    NNAMDIHere is Sally in College Park, Maryland. Sally, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:44:40

    SALLYHi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I have been -- when I was a little girl, my parents were from Baltimore, and they lived in the city. And my dad got work that took us overseas. So, we lived in Sweden and Germany. And that doesn't really matter too much except that they were always talking about racial justice and equity and Martin Luther King and things like that. And I was the youngest of three, and had always been a very visually oriented person and an artist like my mom, I guess.

  • 12:45:13

    SALLYAnd my grandmother, my mom's mom, was a teacher. And she also talked about people from different cultures. But I had some friends who were from Liberia and other countries growing up, as well. But it was more than just, as a little girl, I would -- even as a little girl, I would notice like, why are there no brown baby dolls And sorry to say it that way, but that's how I would say it as a little girl. And I said, well, I want a brown baby doll, and my mom made me one.

  • 12:45:39

    SALLYWhy are there no kids in these books that are -- everybody's just white, and the girls aren't talking. Only the boys talking to the boys. So, it starts off, I guess I'm saying, as a little girl, as a little person who is looking at things and in your own image or in someone else's image you say, well, how is this possible? Even today, the famous movies and most children's books, you know, have...

  • 12:46:05

    SALLYSo my point is, as a teacher in PG County, as an art teacher, I was in East High School working with mostly African-American and Latinx kids, finding that I wanted to teach them about artists that looked like them. And so, it took a while to, you know, do my research, but I found some really fascinating people.

  • 12:46:26

    NNAMDI(overlapping) I'm glad you mentioned that, because we're almost out of time. But, Lesley Younge, in the minute we have left, Meghan tweets to ask: What materials can parents use with grade school children to supplement what the school curriculum may or may not be teaching?

  • 12:46:42

    YOUNGEI think some of the same resources I named for teachers are totally accessible for families and for parents. And they should definitely tap into those. And the books that are on your children's shelves mean so much. We just did an incredible project with a book called "Brown Girl Dreaming," by Jacqueline Woodson, that is chockfull of African-American cultural icons. Just reading that book with children would be a really powerful experience, because it would lead to a lot of research opportunities.

  • 12:47:10

    YOUNGESo, I think the books on your shelves, the resources I named that are for teachers, also being for students -- I mean, for families. And then in your community are so many different events and resources. And looking to your local community, as well, for things that they may be offering that are specially designed for the family there.

  • 12:47:32

    NNAMDILesley Younge, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:47:35

    YOUNGEIt's been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. It's really been a fantastic opportunity to talk with you and with Dr. Carr. Thank you.

  • 12:47:43

    NNAMDIGreg Carr, always a pleasure.

  • 12:47:45

    CARRAlways a pleasure, brother. Let me tell you, your classroom has been a master lesson all along. We love you, brother. We value you, and we can't wait to see what you do next.

  • 12:47:54

    NNAMDIThank you, kindly. Today's Kojo Connect segment on teaching black history was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti talks with us about the latest COVID-19 numbers and what he thinks about Amazon's HQ2 design. Then D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson talks with us about homicides in the District, reopening D.C. Public Schools and the snafu with the Capitol security fence. That all starts at noon, tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows