I am sure, by now, the majority of people living in the area know it’s Black History Month. That means something to a lot of people, but nothing to most.
That may be a harsh statement but, in my opinion, it also is a true one.
Black history is a complex subject because it encompasses every aspect of American history, good and bad. This makes it hard for Iowa teachers to find ways to highlight Black History Month, through no fault of their own. If a person did not go to a predominantly black school where black history is a year-round focus and Black History Month is given extra emphasis, it is difficult to understand how important our history is to us and how important the month of February is to our history.
That is why parents, teachers and other school administrators need to understand the difficulty associated with the teaching of black history in Iowa schools. There are very few African American teachers in Iowa schools and that fact makes it even more difficult.
African Americans must take responsibility for the telling and teaching of our history by talking up the accomplishments of African Americans to society. We must tell and teach our children and grandchildren about the positive and negative things that have happened within our families and our communities. The positive so that it might continue and help keep expectations high. The negative so that it does not repeat itself.
There is a saying, “History always favors the victorious.” Those who tell or teach history can do so in any way they choose. As African American parents, grandparents and guardians, we have little control or input as to how that’s done.
At most, February has 29 days, and there may not be enough time to cover the subject thoroughly. Dr. Martin L. King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X will probably be mentioned, but what about Fannie Hamer, Medgar Evers, The Freedom Riders, The Tuskegee Airmen or Dr. Charles Drew? Do these few days offer enough time to explore the life of Iowa State University alumni George Washington Carver, who was the first African American student, graduate, and professor at ISU? Will students learn that ISU’s football stadium is named for a former African American player named John G. “Jack” Trice?
As we talk about our history in our homes, churches and schools, we can come to understand how our different American cultures are intertwined and defined, and that can help us to become unified as a country. We speak, not to foment hate or division, but to create a bridge over negative stereotypes, images and portrayals, which will help create a better understanding of black people and lead to more positive interactions with other cultures.
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Dr. King once said, “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of identity. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” As an African American father and grandfather. I have watched and experienced the progress of our race from the 1960s to the present.
My wife, Jackie, and I made it our business to tell and teach our children about our history. We do the same with our grandchildren every chance we get, and encourage our children to tell and teach their children about our history — not wait on anyone else to do it. I am convinced now, more than ever, that we, who have lived our history and are living our history, should be teaching and telling our history. That is how we can ensure the contributions made by African Americans to our great country will always be remembered.
• Stephen Canty Sr. is a long time resident of Cedar Rapids, actively involved in the civic, social, political and community issues impacting the area. He and his wife, Jackie, are founders and directors of a nonprofit organization that serves Wellington Heights and other neighborhoods.