Kuumba House, Birthplace of Black History Month, 1970-2019

Kuumba House - Black United Students 1st Black Culture Center 1969To the uninformed it may appear that Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month. In reality this is not the case. Negro History Week was founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1926, by February of 1969 it was sorely in need of major renovation. Black students and faculty at Kent State recognized this need and made some necessary updates to what had been a week-long celebration of Negro History, as if that was all the time our history deserved. As of the date of this article, Black History Month has been celebrated for nearly 50 years at Kent State. It all began with Black United Students’ (BUS) takeover of the Student Activity Center (SAC), on November 13, 1968.Continue reading “Kuumba House, Birthplace of Black History Month, 1970-2019”

The Origin of Black History Month & Its Impact

The story of Black History Month has yet to be fully researched or written. For most of my life the history of Black History Month has been obscure, to say the least. Forty nine years after it’s inception it’s history is still unknown to most people. Even the most erudite scholars cannot answer the question of who, when, where or why it was started.

Everyone can agree on the fact that it was Carter G. Woodson that created Negro History Week as a promotional effort for the study of “Negro History” in public schools. In 1926, the year of the first celebration of Negro History Week, the idea that Negro people had a history was considered ludicrous. The idea that Negroes had no history was just as ludicrous to Carter G. Woodson. He had studied it, written about it and even founded an organization dedicated to the study of Negro history. His organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., was called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).

For decades, Woodson and the ASNLH led a movement to legitimize the study of Black history, particularly in public schools. Negro History Week was his primary promotional tool. He used it to open the school house doors and introduce people to an idea that had not been part of their curriculum, when they were in school. As a teacher, I realize how difficult this is, because teachers do not like change, no matter how many lectures, seminars or workshops they attend, touting the latest educational innovations, unless they think it will make their jobs a lot easier.

He picked the month of February, because two people claimed that month as the month of their birth, Frederick Douglass (2/14) and Abraham Lincoln (2/12). The first celebration was a low key affair, but it seemed like a worthwhile prospect. Every year since, the ASNLH created a theme for the week and sent promotional all over the country.

So, how did this one week celebration become a month long affair? Continue reading “The Origin of Black History Month & Its Impact”

What Messages Are Hidden in Games

Things we think about the least can often be the most important. The education of our children begins long before they ever enter a school. We teach them what to eat and how to eat it. We teach them nursery rhymes, songs and games. These are the first things a child learns and the last thing an adult remembers in old age. They stick with us like glue, become a part of us and determine how we look at the world.

BRUSHING WITH LICORICE STICKAs a school teacher I work with children of all ages and see how they learn and what they learn from K-12th grades. Oftentimes, I learn as much as I teach. Recently I was in a 4th grade classroom and the children were curious about my chewstick. Due to time constraints I don’t always have time to do a full lesson on chewsticks, but the conversation quickly went south when the child wanted to know if I was from Africa. To be frank, I get that question all the time and usually have an insightful answer. That was not the case today. Before I could respond the child wanted to know if we had food in our country because, as far as he knew, we were all starving over there.

I didn’t take offense at the question, but I questioned the logic behind it, that there could be countries in the world where millions of people live and don’t have food. It’s not logical, but it’s what he sees on T.V. everyday. I say all of this to illustrate a point. If we do not inform ourselves, we cannot inform our children and they are left to paint a picture of the world based on the information they receive through the media. Their worldview, in the end, will be no broader than that of Donald Trump and his ilk.

In this same classroom, I noted they had a version of Monopoly for the children to play, called Monopoly Here & Now: The World Edition. What caught my attention is that there were no South American, African or Caribbean cities, as if Canada, the U.S., Europe and a few Asian cities made up the entire world. It says, right on the box that the cities were picked based on a poll. One has to wonder who was polled? There are 2 versions I know of that focus on African cities, namely Lagos, Nigeria and Capetown, S.A., but I have to wonder if this is a good thing. Monopolies are outlawed in the U.S., so why would we want to encourage the development of monopolies in Africa?

MONOPOLY WORLD EDITION - HERE & NOWWhen I was growing up I loved to play Monopoly. It was a lot of fun. We usually never finished a game, but it was fun going around the board buying up pieces of property and waiting for people to land on them, so we could collect rent and if we were lucky, break their bank. Monopoly only has one goal, to be the big winner with ALL the property and ALL the money. At that point it’s not much fun anymore, because you own everything and nobody else can even afford to continue play.

Children learn a lot from T.V. and other media outlets, but they learn just as much, if not more, from the games they play. When I first started working with children it became obvious to me that Monopoly was not a good game to use as a teaching tool. I used it for a limited time as I fed them information that would allow them to play other games, like oware, The Black Community Game and The Afrika Puzzle Map Game. All games have goals and rules. The rules are structured, in order to make it challenging to achieve the goal. Everyone likes to play challenging games, as long as there’s an equal chance that any one of the players can win. A combination of skill and luck make games especially enjoyable. Some games have more of one than the other or may be exclusively based on luck or skill. Monopoly and The Black Community Game require a combination of skill and luck, while Oware and The Afrika Puzzle Map Game require more skill than luck.

Whether it takes more skill or luck to play a game determines the level of engagement of the players. The rules to games determine the ultimate goal of the game. The rules also determine what it takes to achieve said goal. The steps it takes to play the game can have a long-lasting effect on the players. Children’s attitudes and perspective are shaped and molded by the games they play.

OWARE BOARDOware and a number of related versions on the basic theme are all over Africa. In Ethiopia fathers make the boards and give them to their sons, for use when they get married. In the Congo the game has been used to end internecine strife. Introduced by one of the great leaders of the Congo, it became synonymous with him. In Uganda it’s called omweso and is played by the Kabaka during life and death deliberations in his palace. It’s a game that doubles as a calculator and can have as few as 6 holes, in 1 row or as many as 160 holes in 4 rows.

 

Oware has always occupied a prominent role in society being regarded as a game of the Kings of Asante and Denkyira. Warri is the Akan word for being married. The folklore behind the name oware is an Ashanti legend, which states a man and a woman wanted to have more time to play the game oware so they decided to get married.

Versions of oware have been documented in more than 100 countries and go back over 3,000 years to ancient Egypt, Sumer and Troy. They continue to be played on every continent, particularly in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. In order to win Monopoly and oware one person must end up with all of the money and property or seeds, in the case of oware. The difference is in how this is accomplished. In Monopoly it’s O.K. to purposely bankrupt your opponent. In oware and opponent who runs out of seeds must be fed by their opponent in a legal move, if possible. If and only if it’s not possible to make a legal move that feeds ones opponent, the game is over. That’s when the counting begins, as players reset the board and see who has “extra” seeds.

Oware is the world’s oldest board game and counting tool, as well. It’s affiliated with calculus, which means counting bead and the abacus, which is no more than counting beads on sticks. In fact, it’s the oldest form of abacus, as well. It’s use has been documented in nearly every country in Africa, much of Asia and the entire Caribbean, as well as North and South America. More versions of the game, including the 2, 3, 4 and 6 row versions have been documented across the African continent, particularly in Ethiopia and Congo, where more versions are played than anywhere else.

THE BLACK COMMUNITY GAMEThe Black Community Game is based on cooperative economics and community development. Without beating anyone over the head, The Black Community Game promotes peace-in-the-hood and community development at the same time. It’s message is an important one, as our children are deluged with capitalist dreams and goals. Cooperation and self-help are not only in short supply, they’re rarely spoken of, as the current government has been top loaded with capitalists, more concerned about their own bottom line, than the good of the country.

Last, but not least, there’s a game produced by the late Kwaku Amenhotep, in the late 70’s, known as the Afrika Puzzle Map Game. As our children are given no positive way to look at Africa the most prominent images they do see are of starving Ethiopian children. Their relationship with Africa is negative, to say the least. To call them African is one of the worst insults possible. Many immigrants from the Caribbean teach this to their children using sayings like, “You can be anything you want in America. Just don’t be poor.” In America this translates to, just don’t be African.

 

AFRIKA PUZZLE MAP GAMEThe Afrika Puzzle Map Game was one of the best teaching tools available to me, in the late 70’s, when I wanted to teach children about Africa. It quickly dawned on me that there were a number of problems in relating African folktales. First of all there was a language barrier, in terms of the names of the characters. Then there was lack of knowledge of the countries and proper pronunciation of their names. Once those major obstacles were overcome there was still a difference in perspective, landscape, flora and fauna that made it nearly impossible to teach African folklore, without properly setting the stage. The Afrika Puzzle Map Game was a welcome tool I could use to orient the children to the various African countries and begin the process of familiarizing them with the names, languages and folklore of Africa. The game was pure genius and a welcome tool in teaching children about the continent of Africa and its peoples.

Many people say the only kinds of games we can give our children have to have murder and mayhem as the final objective. This is not what I’ve experienced over the years. I’ve introduced to a number of games and activities where no one dies, yet they enjoy the activity, just as much, if not more than any computer game. Teachers today are struggling with the idea of arming themselves in school, just to make it through the day. Why is it that this is so important in the U.S., but not in Canada or even Mexico? In the “most advanced nation in the world” guns and gun violence in schools, is a major problem, while less advanced nations don’t have this problem? In fact, Japan doesn’t even have a need to track the number of shootings, because it amounts to 1/year, for a country of 120 million, that’s highly urbanized! Something’s wrong in America, not just with the games people play, but with the access to firearms, in general. Maybe giving our children different games can begin a process of lowering the death toll. It worked with oware in the Congo, maybe it can work here too.

What is a Chew Stick and Why We Should Chew Them?

Ever wonder how people cleaned their teeth before plastic toothbrushes were invented? The answer is all around us. We used sticks!? Yes, good old sticks were used and in many parts of the world are still used to maintain good oral hygiene. In this case the simplest solution is the best solution.

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A variety of sticks, common to the area they thrive in have been used for millions of years to clean the teeth and avoid all types of diseases, as well as tooth decay. Amongst the Muslims a good tooth “brush” is promoted as one of the practices of a good Muslim during Ramadan. Recommended by the Prophet Muhammed, in the Quran, billions of Muslims, around the world use Miswaak, during Ramadan, to clean their teeth with. “The Miswaak/Seewak (Toothstick) The miswak (miswaak, siwak, sewak, Arabic: سواك or مسواك) is a teeth cleaning twig made from the Salvadora persica tree (known as arak in Arabic) [AKA the toothbrush tree]. Islam taught us 14 centuries ago methods, regarding dental health, that modern medicine has only recently started to introduce.” This toothbrush tree has been promoted by the World Health Organization for oral hygiene use.

“Chewsticks are the ancient healing roots of the Egyptians, used for over 6,000 years to alleviate the effects of coughs, colds, sore throats, indigestion, addiction to any kind of drugs, cigarette smoking, alcoholism and overeating. They’re sweet and can’t be beat for brushing your teeth!”   Dr. Akh N. Aten

I first learned of chewsticks in a book by the herbalist Soaring Bear. After suffering from dental malpractice for years, I happened up on his book “Dental Self-Help.” This is a scary topic for most of us, whose mouths have been colonized by members of the American Dental Association (ADA). Much of what Soaring Bear wrote was news to me. I had never thought abut how people cleaned their teeth before the invention of plastic brushes. I also knew nothing about proper dental care, other than the propaganda regularly distributed by the ADA. I took what he said with a grain of salt. Then I started trying what he talked about and learned the truth, from my own personal experiences. I have yet to prove him wrong.

THE LICORICE PLANTIn this wonderful little book he mentions numerous natural brushes, used by people all over the world, on every continent, by every race of people. There are over 300 types of plants used to clean teeth, not to mention those used to maintain other aspects of oral hygiene, including Red Willow, Acacia, Hibiscus, Umbellularia, Sumac, Alfalfa, Sassafras, Gouania Lupuloides (Jamaican Chewstick), Peelu/Neem, Cottonwood, Smoohfruit, O’ahu, Hairyfruit, lemon tree, lime tree, tea tree, fig tree, cinnamon, bamboo, dogwood, mango, apple, pear, bamboo and hundreds of other chewsticks.

Using a chew stick is easy as 1, 2, 3. I usually break mine in half and begin chewing on CHEWING STICK NIGERIAN STYLEthe broken end, since it’s more malleable than the unbroken end. Once it softens up a little, it will be as soft as chewed paper and is now ready to be used as a toothbrush. Any areas that are deformed from cavities will be difficult to brush as the brush will snag on the jagged areas.

To see the difference between a toothbrush and a chew stick brush your teeth with toothpaste and a brush. Feel your teeth with your tongue and then rebrush with your chewstick, now feel your teeth with your tongue again. You’ll notice an absence of grit left behind by modern toothpastes that you never noticed, but that’s been there all the time.

The first time I ever saw anyone using a chewstick was in Brooklyn at an Africa Dance Festival in the early 80’s. A street vendor was selling them and I thought they might help me survive New York. Indeed, they did. The rest of the time I was in the city I chewed my stick all day and was able to go without food, until I returned to my Uncle’s flat in Harlem, every evening. From then on, I was hooked, but I could not always find them, not until I left Ohio and moved to L.A. I found a local wholesale herb dealer that sold them and developed a regular trade in the sticks, along with my Brother King Ammon Ra. Between the two of us we introduced them to the cultural community through festivals, reggae shows and other events we sold at all over the L.A. valley. Before we knew it our local incense dealer picked up on it and started selling them to his army of dealers all over the city. Now, we see them being chewed by movie stars like Wesley Snipes and Jamie Fox in Western movies, etc.

I’ve introduced their use to thousands of children, all over Akron, who now ask for them every time they see me. It never made sense to me to use candy as a reward, when we have natural things we can give children, like licorice sticks. No matter where you live, there are herbs particular to your area that are panaceas, like licorice, golden seal, hibiscus, frankincense & myrrh. The hundreds of varieties of chewsticks, used all over the world are some of these panaceas.

 

 

 

Will the Real Black Panther Please Stand Up?

 

From the 1960’s to the present when you heard about a Black Panther you thought of a Black man ready to put his life on the line for the good of his family and community. On February 15th, 2018 all of that history was placed aside as Black Panther took on a new meaning. On that day, at midnight, “the first minute of a new day,” as Gil Scott-Heron liked to call it, Black Panther was redefined by the Walt Disney Company as a noble African king. A king who defends the world from a wild-eyed African American pretender to the throne of the Black Panther.

Without going into a lot of details surrounding the origins of this poser, he’s depicted as a wild-eyed megalomaniac, bent on the destruction of White Supremacy and the world as we know it, through force of arms and superior weaponry. With the help of one lone CIA agent, an army of African gorilla-men, not to be confused with revolutionaries engaged in guerilla warfare and the Black Panther’s mother, this pretender, who is also of royal blood, is defeated and ultimately chooses to die a very unnatural death. This is the plot of Disney’s latest blockbuster movie.

Ultimately, the Black Panthers for Self-Defense, originally out of Oakland, CA are depicted as the bad guys, out for blood and world domination; while T’Challa, the fictional Black Panther made famous by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, is depicted as one who only uses violence when absolutely necessary. For many, who only know the Panthers as gun-toting thugs,  it may be hard to see the irony of all this. For the real Black Panthers to be depicted as blood-thirsty savages requires one to take a ride on the Disney “Jungle Cruise” version of Black History, where the Panthers are the enemies of the agents of Black oppression.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was organized in Oakland, CA, by Chairman Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in October of 1966. They established a 10 point platform and published it in nearly every edition of their weekly newspaper, “The Black Panther: Black Community News Service.”

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
  5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
  6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
  8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
  10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Hmmm, I don’t see anything in their platform indicating a need to wipe out White people, seeing as how they accepted help from Black and White people, in implementing their “free food” and “free breakfast” programs, which eventually went national. Apparently, the “free breakfast” program was such a good idea the federal government decided to implement their own and continues to do so in public schools, parks and recreation centers all over the country to this day. They established free clinics and advocated for prisoners using the legal system as their weapon of choice. Now there’s an “Innocence” program affiliated with a number of colleges and a cadre of lawyers that assist innocent victims of the criminal justice system on a pro bono basis. I’m still looking for the revolutionary megalomaniac part of their program. Last, but not least, they used open carry laws to arm themselves when acting as witnesses, in potentially lethal encounters with police and the residents of Black communities from coast to coast, preceding the “Black Lives Matter Movement” of today.

I say all of this to “make it plain” why I take issue with the Disney version of Black History. It’s not about the glamor, glitz or the costumes, even though the costuming posed an issue all by itself. The movie makes Wakandaland a representation of the entire country of Africa, which, by the way, is not a country. Just as, the mixing of bits and pieces of unintelligible linguistic modalities is an issue, resulting in a mumbo jumbo language that’s both stereotypical and demeaning. I can overlook all of this, including the crass Disneyland ad placement at the end of the movie. What I can’t forgive is Disney’s unabashed attempt to rewrite Black History, as long as it makes a buck. I can’t go for THAT! Unh, unh!!

Birth of the Black United Students

Black students have been at Kent for well over 70 years. Over the years the history and contributions of Black people have been obscured. My family moved to Kent, Ohio in

1969. Up until that time we had never lived anywhere for more than 4 years, sometime we moved after only 2 years. Imagine my surprise we entered year 5 of our residency in Kent, the last place I ever thought we’d live in permanently. However, my dad saw and opportunity and grasped it with both hands.

BUS WALKOUT PHOTO - STOMP THE SEALFrom his first day on the campus, as he was being interviewed for a position as director of a new Black Studies program he realized that the students were running the show. Those students were led by the Black United Students. At the time there were 600 Black students enrolled at Kent State, which had a total of 20,000 students enrolled.

The 60’s were a turbulent time. A sitting U.S. President was killed in 1963, not by a foreign terrorist, but by a homegrown terrorist. In rapid succession, his assassination was followed by the assassination of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate and former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, just to name a few. Burning buildings lit up the night sky from L.A. to Harlem, from Cleveland to Miami in 1965, following the death of Malcolm X. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was like a last straw leading to more firebombings, looting and shooting in major cities across the country. With the increased numbers of Black students on college campuses there was good reason to wonder how those events would affect students residing in America’s ivory towers.

The era of Jim Crow began with the end of Reconstruction, in the former Confederate States of America. However, the colorlines created in the 1890’s had no geographical restrictions. They were applied to sports, love, public accommodations, employment, dining and all other aspects of American life, wherever and whenever it might be possible Blacks and Whites might mix, accidentally or intentionally. National fraternities and sororities were no exception and in fact remain quite segregated, to this day.

Enter the Black fraternities. The oldest of these collegiate fraternal organizations are the Alphas (AΦA) and the Kappas (KAψ). The Alphas were founded on the campus of Cornell University, while the Kappas were founded at Indiana University, in the early 1900’s, while the other two original fraternal organizations were founded at Howard University. Today, they have chapters at colleges and universities all over the map.

These organizations were formed on White campuses to create a support network in a hostile environment and out of need to be members of social organizations, like other college students. The fact that White frats and sororities felt it necessary to put discriminatory language in their national constitutions contributed to the situation and made it a necessity to begin creating a parallel universe, just in order to survive. Kent was no exception. With the Kappas going national in 1956 and the Alphas in 1957 Kent had its first Black social organizations.

During the 60’s Black students became much more noticeable on college campuses. Organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were able to get a foothold on campuses, like Kent, and began to call into question the status quo. One of their first targets were the fraternities and sororities. The national constitutions of these organizations were called into question because of explicit language stating members had to be White male Christians, i.e. “No Jews, No Dogs, No Blacks allowed.”

Throughout the late 50’s and early 60’s this was O.K. Following the assassination of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Bobby Hutton and the subsequent rioting that followed, enough was enough. Black students on college campuses began creating much different organizations with well defined agendas and a list of demands. This set the stage for the creation of Black Studies departments, Black cultural centers and a decided increase in Black faculty, staff and students.

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At Kent State this battle was spearheaded by William S. Tolliver and Dwayne White AKA Fargo or Ibrahim Al Khafiz. In January of 1968 Henry Austin was invited to speak on campus by the United Christian Fellowship (UCF) and the NAACP. He spoke as a representative of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a decidedly militant organization fighting against the Klan and for voting rights in a number of southern states. Ten weeks later Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, making the founding of a more militant organization that much more urgent. Five days after the death of King, Tolliver and White put an ad in the Stater for the first public meeting of the Black United Students, listing them as co-chairmen.

Seven months later 1300 students and reporters walked off campus to a self-appointed exile in Akron. Three hundred Black students, literally half the Black student population of Kent, were amongst the KSU refugees. This was a publication relations fiasco the likes of which the university had never experienced. A silent protest leading to a full scale student strike, with national news coverage, was just what university officials did not want. The Black United Students first met in the Spring, but it was what happened in the Fall that gave them enough leverage to have their demands met.

The Untold Story of Black History Month

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Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week back in 1926, when he was living in Washington, D.C. Negro History Week was originally celebrated during the 2nd week in February, in recognition of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. Dr. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History promoted the week in order to counteract the inaccurate portrayals of Black people that were common in the news, school textbooks and within the scholarly community.

Twenty years after the death of Dr. Woodson, in 1950, Black students and administrators, at Kent State University, felt Black history was still important and took it upon themselves to shine the spotlight on it for an entire month. Black History Month was put on the official calendar of the university in 1969 by Dean Milton Wilson, thus becoming Dean Wilson’s brainchild. However, it was Dr. Edward W. Crosby who gave birth to it and presented it to the world. From the start he knew it was insufficient. For a good 20 years the bulletin board in the Center of Pan-African Culture at Kent was emblazoned with the motto, “Blackness not for a month, but for a lifetime!!!”

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Black identity has been an issue ever since first contact with White people in Southern Europe, over 2,000 years ago. All kinds of words have been used to describe African people. Typically, these names were related to the dark skin of the African peoples of the world. To this day Black people are variously described as Ethiopians, Negroes, Colored people, people of color, Niggers, Negritos, Moors, Sudanese and Black. When Negro History Week was created the word Negro, Spanish for black, was considered to be a radical term that people fought to have capitalized. By the 1960’s Negro was considered to be out of fashion. Up until the 60’s calling someone Black was as bad as calling them a nigger is today.

When Black History Month was first celebrated it was radical, because it not only expanded the length of the celebration, it also embraced what up until that point had been the most obvious trait and in some ways the most hated feature of African people.

The story of the first Black History Month celebration has never been told before. Even though Black History Month has gone far beyond the walls of Kent State University. It’s found on every calendar produced in the U.S. and is even celebrated internationally. Nearly 50 years after the 1st celebration Black History Month is still controversial. The validity of Black History Month, it’s relevance; even it’s placement in February, the shortest month of the year, have all been called into question.

Many people question its celebration in February, the shortestDR CROSBY & DR WILSON & NAME TAG month of the year? Some feel that Black History should be celebrated every day; while others question why celebrate it at all, because Black History is American history, or is it? I’m sure if Dr. Woodson were alive he’d agree with some of these arguments. Yes, Black History should be celebrated every day, but in the world we live in that has yet to happen. Even though school textbooks mention the contributions of African people, here and abroad, more and more; teachers often do not feel comfortable with the material and skip over those sections of the books, altogether. Forty eight years after the 1st Black History Month was celebrated, Black history is still nothing more than a footnote, an add on, a jumble of interesting facts and notable dates in American history, as opposed to a staple in elementary/secondary curriculum. Today, Black history month is often no more than a celebration of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King, with little to no mention of the contributions of others, before, during or after the 1960’s. Even the best case scenario limits Black History Month presentations to mention of some standard bearers that have long since died and can no longer speak for themselves; like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Funnily, the truth is there’s much more to Black history that has yet to be unearthed and rediscovered than could be placed in any one textbook.

 

 

 

Ohio’s Black Athletes: 10 Years in the Making

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When I first started working with children nearly 40 years ago, focusing on sports was inconceivable. My attitude was that we focused too much on sports and too little on math, reading and writing. I felt we needed to focus on the “essentials” and African culture. Reading, writing and arithmetic are still important, as tools to understanding the world. African culture is still important, but not to the point where we overlook what we’ve done right here, in our neighborhoods. Art, athletics and aesthetics are also important, not just for the elite, but for everyone. For it is through these seemingly unimportant activities that we learn about the world, our place in it and learn to love life, in all its facets.

Ohio’s Black Athletes is a multimedia project that has been in the making for 10 years now. We’re just starting to hit our stride, after updating our original materials, repackaging, revising and testing everything we’ve created, over the last ten years. We’re finally ready to present these materials to the public as a “finished product.”

Forty years ago I scoured the country looking for curriculum materials that were truly relevant to our children. The best I could come up with were products that met 1-2 criteria, but inevitably fell short. Over the years we created some tools that could be used in the classroom, but they still were not comprehensive in scope or impact.

In 2006 I was asked to return to Ohio to work as a curriculum specialist for the Ida B. Wells Community Academy, Akron’s 1st African centered charter school. For the second time in my life I ended up as the principal/CEO of an educational organization, within 2 months of my arrival here. This was not my intent and it hurt the school in a number of ways, because it meant I was unable to focus on creating a comprehensive curriculum. Most of my days and nights were tied up dealing with bureaucratic necessities, school discipline and board meetings.

It wasn’t until the demise of the school a year later that I was free to focus on what really mattered, a comprehensive curriculum designed for local youth. Ohio’s Black Athletes is not the completion of this project. It’s the first step in creating a curriculum that is relevant, engaging and inspirational for young people everywhere, but particularly in NE Ohio.

Blakfacts curriculum materials go far beyond what most people think of as African centered curricula. The Blakfacts curriculum is the first of its kind, a truly comprehensive, Pan-African curriculum that covers every topic imaginable, with biographies of notable individuals, organizations and movements throughout history. Our introductory materials focus on math, sports and Pan-African history for children with little to no ability to read. As they progress through the materials and become more familiar with the written word, they are introduced to the movers and shakers of the Pan-African world, basic scientific concepts and important ideas that have shaped the world and our view of it.

As we are inundated with daily new stories of scandals, racism and violence it’s important for the youth to know there’s more than one way of looking at the world. Being able to understand someone else’s point of view will be critical in the years to come, as the world becomes more and more polarized and the views of the minority become those of the majority. We hope to see Blakfacts curricula play a role in making the world a better place for everyone.

 

Halloween: A Day of Celebration or Devilment?

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     Halloween is coming up in another week. I wonder how many of us will be celebrating and why? Is it just for the candy, or is there something about Halloween that speaks to our nature? Personally, I gave it up long ago, without any fanfare. In my youth I recall going door to door and begging for sweet treats. I also remember having so many treats I couldn’t eat them all in a year, so I always had a bunch left over.
     It wasn’t until long after I’d already stopped eating candy and celebrating the holiday that I came across the book by Rev. Ishakamusa Barashango, on African People and European Holidays. This book opened my eyes to the origins, not only of Halloween, but Christmas, as well. By the time I read it, I had already stopped celebrating both holidays. In the case of Christmas, my whole family stopped celebrating Christmas when we started celebrating Kwanzaa, in the early 70’s.
     Although, some people, like televangelist Pat Robertson have labeled Halloween a 5111Egp8RfL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_pagan holiday dedicated to Satan, the fact of the matter is it’s actually a Christian holiday. While it’s roots may lie in “pagan” rituals of the ancient druids and other pre-Christian sects, it is as Christian as Lent. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. It was originally called All Hallows Eve and is the day before All Saints Day. Originally it was more like a day to revere ones ancestors and included candle lit ceremonies and overnight stays in cemeteries.
     American commercialism turned it into a day to binge on sugary treats. Likewise, Saint Patty’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas have been commercialized in similar fashion, with costumes, candy, gluttony and intoxication becoming the hall marks of each holiday. In America this is how holidays are celebrated. Even Kwanzaa, an original Black holiday, has not been able to avoid blatant attempts to Americanize/commercialize it. 
     As this holiday season fast approaches, I wonder who will continue to blindly “celebrate” America’s favorite holidays and who will decide to engage in more meaningful practices, meant to uplift and energize the Black family? Some of the most meaningful lessons our children will learn are wrapped up in the celebration or rejection of these American holidays. I advise everyone that decides to continue celebrating them to do a little research and learn more about what’s actually being celebrated.
     I’m sure most people are unaware of one of the most important parts of the Christmas celebrations of Europe, which include Krampus and his Krewe of demons and devils. I wonder how many people are aware of the origins of many of the characters included in the Halloween menagerie? What are our children learning when we dress them up as clowns? Who are the Bozo people? Why does Bozo have such big feet, large nose, wild hair, big lips and funny looking hair and why is he in whiteface?