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Uplifting Black Joy

This year the theme for Black History Month is African Americans and the Arts, and students at U-32 Middle and High schools have been working on uplifting Black Joy through a month-long celebration of, recognition of, and education in Black History.

BLAMM: Black, Latino, Asian, and Many More is a U-32 club for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students. This year they have been working on incorporating the history and contributions of BIPOC folks into the mainstream curriculum and culture of their school. While they are focusing on Black History Month, they recognize the importance of all the designated months; and beyond designated months, they are working to integrate the BIPOC experience into the U-32 experience.

The purpose of this month’s activities is to bring attention to other histories and cultures. In a community lacking diversity, it is important for all students to build an awareness and understanding of cultures not their own. Through the month-long activities, BLAMM will create a more thorough understanding of the importance of other histories and cultures on white American society and will hopefully help develop a continued desire for students and educators to learn about others’ experiences.

So many times Black History consists of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Civil Rights movement. Maybe students will read a sentence or two about Malcolm X, the Black Panther movement, or the Harlem Renaissance. What BLAMM is hoping to accomplish is an increase in exposure to more than the traditional Black History curriculum.

So why the focus on Black Joy? Because too many times, lessons and texts focus on Black Americans as victims, their stories steeped in trauma. While that is a very real part of being Black in America, the Black Experience is much more than that.

BLAMM has created a “movie night” throughout the month so students and staff members can be exposed to television shows such as “Family Matters,” the original “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Blackish,” “Living Single,” and “Abbott Elementary,” to name a few. While these shows share the realities of what it is to be Black in America, they also show what it is to be human. They focus on community, relationships, and happiness. They are shows about Black people just living life, not glorifying the trauma and racism that Black people experience on a regular basis. 

BLAMM is also creating posters with QR codes where students and staff members can learn about the history, culture, and music of Black Americans. Some of the content is based on experiences that Black students have had within the U-32 community, such as cultural appropriation. Other posters introduce the faculty and staff to Black figures or events they may never have heard of before.

In the spirit of this year’s theme — African Americans and the Arts — BLAMM is hosting a Community Speaker Series. This will allow staff members and students to hear from successful local Black Vermonters. The series includes sessions with:

  • Poet Rajni Eddins, who spoke about the transformative power of the spoken word on social justice.
  • Rev. Steven Tendo, who went from being an asylum seeker to an activist, and hosted the session, “Advocating for Justice and Human Rights is a Human Right.”
  • Former State Representative Kiah Morris, who will be running a session titled “Youth Empowered to Fight the Power”
In addition to the work that BLAMM is doing, there is an expectation that staff members will do their own work to be more inclusive in their lessons. Yolanda Bansah, a member of BLAMM, sent a video out to the staff to help them think about their current curriculum and provide assistance with resources, content, and themes. Several teachers responded to the email with examples of lessons they were planning to incorporate into their curriculum, as well as reflections on changes they wanted to make based on feedback from students and parents regarding current teaching practices. The hope is that staff members will continue this reflection and reform beyond Feb. 29, and that more subjects beyond the predictable Social Studies and English will start to actively incorporate different cultural impacts into their content. If all goes as expected, the Black Joy that BLAMM is sharing will spread through the rest of the year, and the U-32 community will continue to embrace the importance of learning about new and different cultures and experiences. 

Regarding the impact this month’s activities have on the culture of U-32, Bansah shared that “Learning never stops, especially when it comes to cultures and communities not your own. We need to have an understanding of all people in the world, all of those histories are your history. Experiences are important and should be seen as important by you as well.”

Natasha Eckart has spent the last 20 years in the world of education, serving as a paraeducator, teacher, and union representative. She has also worked extensively as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion facilitator and advocate.