Awakening a Black Child’s Consciousness and Curiosity

Written on 29 January 2015, 08:32pm under Homegrown

As a writer on race, ethnicity and culture in education, my frank words and activism are influenced and informed by my experiences as a mother. I read the research. I listen to the scholars and experts. And all of that data and information is filtered through the prism of a Black mom with a Black son in public schools.The link between police in schools and overcriminalization of Black youth is about social justice. It’s also about whether my son could be next. Suspending Black boys at a disproportionate rate for non-violent infractions is the symptom of a racist and unjust system. It’s also a real thing that happens in public schools to students who look like my son. The importance of culturally relevant materials and diverse books is a prized educational value that moves from theoretical to concrete when my son is presented with a summer reading list with not one author of color.I spend a lot of time documenting and commenting on outrages, so with admiration and appreciation I can share that something special is happening in my son’s ninth-grade Honors English class. With the new semester comes a new teacher. And a refreshing teaching philosophy.

Unless I’m in that book, you’re not in it either. History is not a procession of illustrious people. It’s about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about. –James Baldwin
In the last three weeks my son was assigned a project on Emmitt Till (during which he learned for the first time that Till died on my son’s birthday!) Despite my prodding, he was lukewarm on seeing “Selma” until this English assignment. After seeing “Selma” he now wants to learn more about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the horrific act that opens Ava DuVernay’s powerful movie. And his English class just started “To Kill A Mockingbird,” opening the door to more spirited conversations on race relations.Interestingly, somewhere in his recent reading, he also settled on the belief that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are racist and decided to boycott both corporations. His historical take on these soft drink companies is accurate. His decision has made shopping for beverages and snacks a meticulous exercise requiring thorough assessment. As I do backflips inside, watching my child learn, grow and sharpen his social justice concerns.In real-time I am seeing how culturally relevant teaching helps students develop critical-thinking and analytical skills, as well as disrupt student perceptions – laying the groundwork for adults who confront and challenge assumptions and structural inequalities. Seeing our history and culture reflected in his classroom has awakened my son’s consciousness and curiosity.

Because he’s a teenager, I guard against showing too much exuberance. For fear that anything Mom likes is questionable. But just between us…

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