It’s our Shared Past

Exciting Ways Every Child Can Embrace Black History Month

by LaKeisha Fleming

“I think it’s important to teach children about black history during any month, but especially during February. [African Americans] have accomplished and contributed too much to this country that needs to be shared, and especially with our youth.”  Lithia Springs resident Sheliah Gray, a school paraprofessional, echoes sentiments felt by many people of diverse cultures and races. 
As a mother of two, Gray believes that the rich legacy of African Americans should be celebrated, and passed on from generation to generation. While learning these facts is a worthwhile endeavor, children may not be too enthusiastic about history lessons. The key is finding a fun way to help your children understand the importance of Black History Month, and feel connected to history.

The History of the Holiday

A good starting point is to understand how Black History Month evolved. Its origins are as early as 1926, when Negro History Week was introduced by historian Carter G. Woodson. The expansion of the week to Black History Month was proposed in 1969, celebrated in 1970, and recognized by the United States government in 1976. It is now also referred to as African American History Month. Black History Month is also celebrated in Canada in the month of February, and annually in October in the United Kingdom.

Importance to All People

All ethnicities share commonalities as United States citizens. Diversity allows us to enjoy the richness of the various cultures that make this nation great. Esteemed poet Maya Angelou once noted, “For Africa to me … is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.” Whether or not you are African American, this history is your history and your heritage. 

Celebrating the Month

The month often includes traditional celebrations in churches, as well as schools. Everything from plays to parades, and readings to recitals, are hosted to honor the legacy and accomplishments of African Americans. These events are great, but not quite enough, according to Sugar Hill resident Anita Paul, owner of The Write Image. “The narrative of black people in America is often watered down and encapsulated into a couple of events – either slavery or the civil rights movement – and there’s so much more.” 

Making History Real

So how can you bring this culture alive for your child? Genealogy, or learning your family history, is one of the ways to enrich your child’s knowledge. This exercise can be a valuable learning experience for all races, potentially learning of accomplishments of African Americans, or your family’s historical connections to the culture.
Paul is also a member of the Atlanta chapter of the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society. She says it is never too early to start the learning process.
“Doing the genealogical research helps individuals make a personal connection to history. You can find ancestors who lived during a particular time; that makes it more personal to you. It’s not just the war of 1812 … you can identify some contribution or success [your family member] experienced,” Paul says. “It’s about making a personal connection.”
Fairburn mom Maria Newton says when her 12-year-old son, Nicholas, had a school project on the 1950s, he was able to lean to his grandmother for first-hand information, learning more about his family and the time period. 
“We organized a project around her life and the black history of that day,” Newton says. 
Author Michael Henderson, whose book, Got Proof!, chronicles his research into his family history, notes, “I think one of the ways that parents can start getting their children interested in family history is to talk to them growing up. When you take a child back to the place where you grew up and connect those experiences … it brings all of the senses alive.”

Anybody Game?

Making a game out of learning can always capture a child’s attention. Gray, whose children are 14-year-old Alexis and 12-year-old Lex, found a source of adventure was the key to engaging her children during a visit to the King Center. She describes a fact-finding mission she developed with several other parents when planning a tour of the center. “Prior to going, facts were gathered about Dr. King and the King Center that were put into question format for the children to answer during the tour. All of us worked together to answer the questions, which proved to be both fun and educational.” 
If you’re stumped for places to find games and activities, a number of websites, from PBSkids.org to NickJr.com, offer an array of kids-themed Black History options. You can
also search online to find interactive games, puzzles and worksheets.

Where They Lead, You Follow

Allowing her child’s passion to dictate a course of action has proved successful for Newton. “Whenever we ‘encounter’ an important black historical person, such as in the media, in conversation or from a school assignment, we take the opportunity to research the person and dig deeper into the life of that person.” 
Gray says that parents can “find something that interests the children and have them research it or you find a few tidbits and begin sharing it with them to get their interest going.” The child might enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and gathering information so much, it won’t feel like work.

Outside Your Four Walls

Atlanta is full of cultural events and programs centered on honoring the accomplishments of African Americans.
The Black History Month parade takes place annually in the historic Sweet Auburn district. Participants this year, noon-3 p.m. Feb. 22, include the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Braves. 
The Atlanta History Center will hold several events to commemorate Black History Month (find a schedule at atlantahistorycenter.com). The city of Roswell also will host several events, including an exhibit celebrating playwright Langston Hughes (for a schedule, see roswellgov.com). And of course, the King Center is an excellent source of information.
Newton says she and her family commemorate the selfless legacies left by many African Americans by participating in projects with Hosea Feed the Hungry. Other service projects can include reaching out to the less fortunate through donations, mentorship and tutoring.

Choose to Take Part

Whatever activities you choose to take part in for Black History Month, the important thing is to provide opportunities for your children to learn, grow and appreciate the rich heritage of African Americans. Help your children make a connection, and feel a part of something greater.  
Henderson says, “It’s important to get a child to really understand the significance of their individual history … it connects them, it grounds them. If you can connect a child to a global history, history will come alive to them in the school, in the classroom, and just in general growing up. You have to have that initial spark of curiosity.”

Click here for a list of Black History Month Events,

The King Center

Learn About Black History All Year Long

You can increase your knowledge and insight on the achievements of African Americans all year long at these locations in Atlanta.

Apex Museum: Presenting history from an African American perspective, the Apex museum is a place “where every month is black history month.” Its interactive and self-guided tours take you on a journey of history through exhibits, tours and events. apexmuseum.org

Atlanta History Center: The history center brings history to life through its many exhibits and collections. It often features lectures and activities focused on Atlanta and African American history. atlantahistorycenter.com

Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries: This art collection includes paintings, murals, sculptures, works on paper and ethnographical artifacts in three major categories:  Contemporary American, African American and African. The school began gathering art pieces in 1942 when segregation kept artists of color from widely exhibiting their works. cau.edu

The King Center: The King Center features countless civil rights and black history mementos, including a photographic history of the lives of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta. In The Gandhi Room, you’ll see the powerful influence that the works of Gandhi had on the life of Dr. King. thekingcenter.org

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site: The site includes the Visitors Center, which features  a “Children of Courage” exhibit about the children of the civil rights movement, the home where Dr. King spent his childhood, Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King and his father preached, the Kings’ tombs, and a world peace rose garden.
nps.gov/malu

Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center & Bookstore: “The Shrine” is one of the nation’s largest and oldest black-owned Bookstores. With locations in Atlanta, Detroit and Houston, the center hosts exhibitions, book signings, storytelling, educational workshops, and of course a vast array of African American literature. shrinebookstore.com
– LaKeisha Fleming