Dope teaching of Black history, Black joy, Black individualism and more at the Teaching Black History Conference
We must acknowledge and celebrate the people who are teaching Black history well – accurately, engagingly, and truthfully. It’s annoying, but not surprising, that the media focused more on Florida’s anti-black African American History standards than all of the talented educators who truly know how to bring Black history alive in meaningful and purposeful ways.
I just left Professor’s LaGarrett King’s purposeful and beautiful Teaching Black History Conference in Buffalo. His conferences should be prioritized in the media for covering effective Black History, and shame on the media for not covering the conference more!
This year’s theme was “the Sound of Blackness,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip hop. There is so much I could share from this conference about teachers creating effective materials, units, and lessons engaging kids in Black history through the culture of Black music. All of the presenters at the conference are worth checking out, and here are just a few highlights that I will bring back to my classroom this year.
The opening keynote speaker was Bavu Blakes who spoke about the spiritual identity of hip hop, and the power of hip hop as a resilient spirit. His response to any criticism of hip hop was that “someone who is not for you, can’t tell your story.” This claim resonated for me during the remainder of the conference, because in Buffalo, Black history was being shared, celebrated, and mutually reflected in a safe space.
This conference was Black joy and intellectualism, outside the noise of angry parents or foolish writers of Black history standards. Indeed, for me the best part of the conference was the rejuvenation of my spirit, and the motivation to return to the classroom again.
This will be by twelfth year teaching Black history and I am honestly a little nervous to go back due to burn out. Moreover, I rarely receive professional development on how to improve my Black history teaching practice, and fortunately presenters like Blakes and others packed a yearlong worth of Black history professional development into three days.
Delandree Hall reviewed the four elements of hip-hop: graffiti culture, MCing, DJing, and break dancing, and provided participants to share resources on a padlet. Philadelphia native and champion of Black teachers prioritizing taking care of themselves, Angela Crawford, focused on hip hop feminism and shared stories from her classroom on how to uplift Black women. Similar to Blakes, she shared how she posed the question to students, “who can you be without the world telling you who you are?” because “there’s no stopping you when you feel good about yourself.”
The second day’s inspiring keynote speaker, Dr. Toby Jenkins, provided practical ways to discuss some of my students favorite musical artists. She claims that hip hop culture can be framed based on three categories: drive, approach, and authenticity, and posture, because as Jay Z argues “competition pushes you to become your best self, and in the end, it tells you where you stand.”
Victoria Patch Williams’ presentation on the Niggerati delivered an inspiring lesson on the Harlem Renaissance. Frequently, the Harlem Renaissance is taught at the surface level. Patch Williams’ Niggerati lesson challenged teachers to wrestle with LaGarrett King’s Teaching Black History “historical contention” principle and revealed how not all Harlem Renaissance artists got along all the time. Each one had a different perspective on how Black people should grow from traumatic experiences. Her session highlighted the secrets and personal relationships amongst the artists, and the ways in which some artists shielded their private Black identity and beliefs from public view.
One other session that I will lastly share came from a retired teacher and covered James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues.” As a Baldwin admirer, it was rewarding to return to a deep dive into one of his fictional pieces. This beautiful story focuses, among many others, the power of redemption, and reminded me on how fiction can be used in teaching Black history to focus on the relationships between Black people, rather than the institutional structures that impact them. Indeed, one of the biggest themes from the conference was Black individualism.
The conference’s focus on hip hop and music inspired me to not just focus on how to decolonize white supremacist structural systems, but to also push students to celebrate the Black joy of individual Black identity, and how Black people can use their own personal experience to ultimately uplift others in the community.
Lastly, I must share. I LAUGHED A LOT at this conference. From the playing of Juvenile’s “Back that Ass Up,” debating Janelle Monae’s album “the Age of Pleasure,” and revisiting the genius of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push it,” my spirit was uplifted. I additionally presented on how I designed a creative summative assessment on Meek experience with the probation system, so when the song came on in the evening reception we all turned up like our students.
Next year’s Teaching Black History theme is titled “Black to the Future,” focusing on Afro-futurism. Indeed, this conference continues to be on the forefront of teaching Black History, and I am so grateful that I was able to attend.