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Black folks aren’t waiting on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or the College Board to curate and disburse Black history to us.
As despicable and harmful as the Florida governor’s recent rejection of the pilot Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course was, DeSantis does not get to decide when and how we learn Black history.
And as welcome (and overdue) as it is that the College Board is finally creating an AP African American Studies course, they also don’t get to tell us which Black voices matter.
For sure, these decisions about who and what gets taught in America’s classrooms have very real implications for students, and those who seek to whitewash Black history should continue to be met with intense pressure and protestation.
But white leaders have tried to restrict our education for centuries. DeSantis’ playbook is plagiarized.
Related: OPINION: The College Board is sanitizing African American studies just as it has American history
Fear of Black revolt and power led nearly all slave states to pass laws against teaching enslaved Blacks to read and write. Now, in a public school system in which nearly 80 percent of teachers and more than 90 percent of superintendents are white, policymakers are finding new ways to subjugate Black youth.. Predominantly white legislatures in at least 35 states in 2021 began pursuing policies or laws that would restrict teaching about race and racism.
Let’s remember, colleges and universities only agreed to accept credits for an AP course focused on African American history after the world watched George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of the police .
It’s exhausting and infuriating, but Black families know that the school system was not really designed for our students.
Related: While white students get specialists, struggling Black and Latino readers often get left on their own
And the Black community has always found ways to deliver the education our children deserve.
Black people taught each other underground in the late 1700s and 1800s to circumvent anti-literacy laws that sought to keep us subordinate.
We set up Freedom Schools and educational initiatives such as the Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School in the 1960s and 1970s.
Today, we are making new efforts to teach our story — such as those by Reconstruction, an online platform that offers live classes focused on “unapologetically Black education,” and by organizations including the Center for Black Educator Development and Black Education for New Orleans.
At TeenSHARP, the leadership and college access organization my wife and I co-founded to serve Black and Latino students in 2009, we didn’t wait for school officials to create conditions in which Black excellence is celebrated and studied.
We built them ourselves.
We didn’t wait for school officials to create conditions in which Black excellence is celebrated and studied. We built them ourselves.
For more than a decade, on any given Saturday, you can find high school students in our program taking classes such as Black Feminist Thought; Intro to Africana Studies; African American Literature; Contextualizing US Immigrant Experiences; Race, Media, and Collective Memory in American History; and Politics of Hip Hop.
You will find our students reading “The Souls of Black Folk,” “The Fire Next Time,” “The New Jim Crow” and “The Warmth of Other Suns.”
You will find them in direct conversation with Black authors such as Tre Johnson (author of the forthcoming “Black Genius”), Ernest Owens (author of “The Case for Cancel Culture”) and Pulitzer Center grantees Erica Ayisi, Melissa Noel and Irene Vázquez.
The impact is as transformational as some fear.
TeenSHARP high school students led the charge to create a statewide coalition of Black students — the Delaware Black Student Coalition — that helped get a law passed in Delaware to require schools to teach Black history. One group of our students co-created a social justice curriculum that is now being taught in some Delaware schools.
Our students have earned their way into elite spaces such as Yale (which DeSantis and College Board CEO David Coleman attended), Howard University, the University of Pennsylvania and many other top colleges. They enter college and their professional lives rooted in their rich history and emboldened by the legacy of their ancestors’ resistance and intellectual heft.
Too many students are starved of an inclusive and affirming curriculum in their schools. We can and will ensure they have all the access to Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, Roderick Ferguson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, bell hooks and any other Black scholar they so desire.
The power is ours.
Anyone seeking to censor or restrict that access is on the wrong side of history.
Atnre Alleyne is the co-founder and CEO of TeenSHARP, an organization that prepares students of color for top colleges and leadership. He is also the founder of The Proximity Project, a diversity and inclusion firm that helps organizations build deeper and more authentic connections with marginalized communities.
This story about AP African American Studies was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.
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