As a researcher and scholar of Black history education, an international speaker, and the director of the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo, I have the distinct pleasure to meet impactful educators, businesspeople, and organizations whose focus is improving Black history for everyone.
The Joy Village School
One place that left an impression on me was the Joy Village School, a K-8 private school in Athens, Ga., under the leadership of Lora Smothers. (Unfortunately, the school is temporarily closed to find new funding opportunities.)
The school’s joy-based instructional approach centers play and place-based education as well as experiential, multisensory, and interdisciplinary knowledge, as well as nature. Its core subjects—language arts, math, and Black history—include many enrichments, such as visual and performing arts, science labs, and foreign languages.
The school’s Black history curriculum is not only taught from books. Students learn Black history through visits to the local community and visits from leaders and elders to share stories and life skills.
When I visited the school, I was enamored by all the Black history work I saw and the excitement in Lora’s face when she spoke about the school and its teachers.
Many schools and school districts can learn from her approach not only to teaching Black history but also to creating a space that is culturally relevant and joyful.
School Yard Rap and Griot B
School is not the only place where we can learn Black history, books not the only sources. Entertainment can be a vehicle for learning Black history, and this leads me to my second highlight.
A few years back, a young man, Brandon Brown, contacted me about an opportunity for him to perform his Black-history-inspired music at the annual Teaching Black History Conference put on by the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education that I lead. He came to the conference and did an excellent job performing, mixing entertainment with education.
He performs under the stage name Griot B. He selected this name to honor a class of West African storytellers-musicians-historians known as “griots,” who perform tribal histories and genealogies. He started his business, School Yard Rap, in 2015 to create educational content and curriculum through the lens of history.
School Yard Rap’s mission is to improve the educational experience of school-aged children. The music is geared toward uplifting the narratives of Black history and Latino history. He travels across the country in partnership with school districts, holding concerts and professional development sessions.
Currently, he is on tour with his Black history musical, “Moor Than a Month.”
The “In Class With Carr” video series
The majority of people do not attend college or have the training to access academic writing. Therefore, the role of a public intellectual is of the upmost importance. Many academics attempt to be public intellectuals, but there is one scholar I call the people’s professor: Greg Carr.
Along with radio personality Karen Hunter, he has hosted a YouTube channel and podcast called “In Class With Carr” for the past several years. Now up to nearly 200 episodes, the show airs every Saturday at noon. As a frequent listener, I often feel the 2½-hour shows fly by, as Hunter and Carr talk about everything from politics to not-so-well-known Black history.
For those who are serious about learning Black history in a relaxed and virtual environment, this series is one of the best ways to make that happen.