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American History: When will you see the contributions of Black people as part of your world?

Written by, Laura Thomas

I love films, but I really enjoy Disney movies. They not only keep me connected to the kid in me, always cultivating such nostalgia, they also carry such meaningful lessons throughout their magical tales. I’m even looking to hijack my Godchildren’s Disney Cruise to sit around all day with them, hugging the characters and watching old and new Disney movies. And even though I'm typically not amongst the first crowds of people to watch a new film, I won't be surprised if I’m at the theater the day The Little Mermaid hits the screens. This release is iconic for so many reasons and will be a major part of American history.

The film embodies so much in terms of cultural awareness and representation. Humans can relate to forms of oppression, from being marginalized to feeling unseen. As a Black woman with dark skin, I recall as a child wanting to feel “Part of Your World”, a world I was dropped into that even as a child could sense was inherently designed against me. With the cultural propaganda taking place in the United States, and its grave effects in education—with the exclusion of major American history involving Black people—this could not be a more fitting time for the release of this fantasy of escape with a new lens that portrays not only my experience, but also many other Black women and little girls.

So, from a policy standpoint regarding education, this Black History Month I’m celebrating Elijah Edwards, Juliette Heckman, and Victoria McQueen—the high school students in Florida threatening to sue Governor DeSantis over his ban against African American History. On a much smaller scale, but a significant event in my life—I had a similar experience when my Honors South Carolina History teacher, Ms. Dicks, attempted to supplement Black History into our class. I will never forget how excited and happy I was that the history of my ancestors would be part of our studies, but all of that was shattered and quickly shut down. In retaliation towards my teacher, the school forced her, a Black American woman, to hang a Confederate flag up in her classroom. This was a horrific experience that I had repressed, and it was not until I watched Edwards, Heckman and McQueen share their feelings with Joy Reid that it all came flooding back to me. Reminding me why I do the work that I do. Learning the history of our communities, countries and world in culturally responsive ways representative of the diversity of our school communities is imperative for children’s social emotional development and well-being.

This month, I have been revisiting and reflecting on many of W.E.B Du Bois’s quotes on education and social injustice. These high schoolers in Florida are doing the work Du Bois studied and deemed necessary for us all to feel part of this world. This is a fight many Black, Brown, Indigenous people and allies have been doing for centuries in America. We all want to be seen, represented, heard and treated with the respect and dignity that every human deserves. As much as I hate to see kids having to endure these racially discriminating experiences, it makes me want to say something too and encourage them as they grow their voice. Halle Bailey expresses it best when she discussed with Entertainment Weekly her playing the lead role as the “Little Mermaid”. “We all relate to feeling like we want something better for ourselves. I think the strength in [Ariel] is that she goes for it.” Edwards, Heckman and McQueen are going for it and I hope we all in some form will support them, because we all are part of this world and should be able to learn about all aspects of how we each, Black people included, have shaped it and play a major role in its history.

Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” – W. E. B. Du Bois


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