By Katrina Ortman, Staff Writer
// “Black History Month” flashes in vibrant blue and pink letters in the hallways. Doors brighten up classes with art depicting famous African American figures. Podcasts and diversity ring out during lunchtime clubs. A month-long cultural celebration begins.
Historian Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week, coinciding with the birthdays of abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, in 1925. Following the Civil Rights Movement, this celebration expanded to the entire month of February as the first Black History Month (BHM) in 1976.
Acalanes students celebrated BHM this February through informative podcasts, artistic competitions, discussions about intersectionality, and more.
The Acalanes Black Student Union (BSU) organized several events designed to teach and spread appreciation for African American history.
“BHM is a way for black people to feel empowered and celebrate. BHM, for people who aren’t black, is for them to acknowledge the part that black people have played in history,” BSU President and senior Jaedyn Boynton said.
To accomplish this goal, the BSU hosted three lunchtime listening sessions of the “1619 Podcast” by The New York Times. The podcast examines the aftermath of August 1619, when Africans set foot on continental North America for the first recorded time.
Each podcast episode had a specific theme, from the origin of blackface in the U.S. to the impact of African American music. Students attending the sessions took away valuable lessons and expressed disbelief at some of the histories they learned.
“One thing the podcast said was that the first time blackface was performed in a theater, there were 20 encores, so that was really surprising. I was shocked to hear that,” junior Lena Johnson said.
Additionally, BSU’s door-decorating contest encouraged classes to research individual African American heroes. Participating classes decorated their doors with art of historical figures such as Louis Armstrong and Zora Neale Hurston. On February 19, the BSU judged each door and awarded history teacher Ed Seelenbacher first place at a February 27 rally.
Led by Spanish teacher Elizabeth Gough (Profe), the Spanish department united in the contest, putting up photos of famous afro-latinos all along the 400 wing. Although Profe previously taught small lessons for BHM, this year, she expanded the curriculum.
“We came up with a slideshow of one [person] for every day of February, and all I’m doing is having my students, when they do have class now, read a couple of them in Spanish,” Profe said.
The BSU sees the door-decorating as a big success, and it discussed ways to further educate students and improve campus culture at the second annual BSU Summit on February 21.
“We’ll talk about police brutality, mass incarceration, racism within the classroom and within this community, how we’ve dealt with it, and steps that we’ve taken. We’re probably going to talk about improvements that we’ve seen from last year to this year,” Boynton said prior to the summit.
The BSU plans to bring conversations from the summit to the rest of the school, partnering with other clubs and groups on campus to organize future BHMs.
This year, the BSU worked with Leadership and the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) to run BHM. The QSA led a lunchtime discussion about black figures in LGBTQ+ history. Leadership advertised events through chalk writings and posters and showed an episode of “Black-ish,” a sitcom following an African American family, during Academy.
“We wanted to support BSU because it’s their thing; this is what they do. We thought that they should get the spotlight, and we should just support them,” Diversity Board member and sophomore Aviruchi Dawadi said.
However, students reported some history and English classes not mentioning Black History Month.
“I feel like it has not gotten the acknowledgment that it needs to be getting. In order for that to happen, teachers need to step out of their comfort zones and actually address it,” BSU Secretary and junior Desiree Blakeney said.
Boynton addressed this comfort zone, urging teachers to push past it while acknowledging the challenge of teaching another race’s history.
“It’s a fear for some teachers because it’s not seen as their history even though black history is American history,” Boynton said. “There’s a fear of ‘I shouldn’t be celebrating this because it isn’t for me.’”
Acalanes looks forward to a brighter, more diverse future as new activities spring up each year.
“Without black history, there’s no American history, so it’s really important, especially for our peers who are predominantly white, to learn about where we all come from and who was a part of that,” BSU Vice President and junior Deja Cooper said.