To recognize the importance of overlooked Black contributions throughout history, the Oyster River community has been educating each other through all of Black History Month.
People of African descent have been a fundamental part in American history. However, for many years their work and contributions to society were overlooked and unrecognized. Black History Month, which takes place all of February, gives all Americans the chance to finally appreciate all of the achievements of Black people and learn about their heritage. Oyster River community members understand the importance of this month and have been working hard to educate themselves along with others. Many of them explained how teachers and students can recognize Black history in many different ways. Clubs are also working together to create resources for the ORHS community to learn about this month.
According to “Why is Black History Month in February? How do you celebrate? Everything you need to know.” from USA Today, Carter G. Woodson was known as the “Father of Black History” and developed Black History Month. After becoming the second African American to get a Ph.D from Harvard, he recognized that the American education system offered very little information about the accomplishments of Black students. To combat this injustice, he proposed a national “Black History Week” which was eventually turned into a month.
Today in the Oyster River Community, many people believe this month is crucial to recognize. Social studies teacher Jaclyn Jensen explained how our country is white centered and fails to recognize Black contributions. “From my understanding, the intent [of Black History Month] is to combat the historical denial of one’s history and contributions and to shift that unrecognition to a place where we all are acknowledging, learning, or celebrating.” She continued, “it’s definitely a time to understand the history of resilience, accomplishments, and innovations of the Black community and how their stories have been left out in history in a number of ways.”
Diverse Students Union Leader Charlotte Merritt (‘22) expands on this, “if we think back to slavery, Black people weren’t given credit because they weren’t really seen as people…any accomplishments from them were just thrown away in history.”
Jensen brings up another example of Black contributions being overlooked in society. “It’s so important to know that Black Americans are really at the center of creativity, innovations, and genres in music that come out of the United States.” She continues, “if we look at the history of jazz, blues, and rock and roll…it all comes down to the creative genius of Black Americans.”
Students and faculty understand the importance of this month and are finding ways to recognize overlooked Black contributions. Sustainability club member, Nori Sandin (‘23) explains “celebrating this month ensures that the legacy of Black Americans lives on….especially in a predominantly white and enclosed area, it’s our job to educate ourselves on the accomplishments.” She continues, “[sustainability club is] writing segments in our newsletter about the accomplishments of Black environmentalists who are making a difference in their community, along with some amazing Black businesses in New Hampshire.”
Aidan Covell (‘21), a member of ORTV and sustainability club, is working with both groups to create informational videos available to the school. “It’s a unique opportunity to use ORTV to put out information and it’s perfect for Black History Month because students, teachers, and even families all watch [ORTV].” He continues, “we are going to mention some Black activists and just teach people about environmental justice…it’s super important because this month gives us a chance to teach people about other aspects of environmentalism.”
While some people are recognizing this month through clubs, Merritt is simply doing it on her own. She explains, “this month I just want to be more aware on racial issues.” Merritt referenced a recent event in Rochester, New York where an African American child was pepper sprayed by police officers during a mental health crisis. She continued, “and also every week of February, I’ll try to focus and do some research on somebody who was Black and made a big impact on our daily lives.”
As for teachers, Jensen explains how simple it is to incorporate Black history into our education. She said, “it is easier for humanities classes to incorporate Black history, but even for classes like math and science it doesn’t take much looking to realize that there are so many contributors…there are Black engineers, inventors, and mathematicians.” She explained that teachers can start their classes by highlighting certain contributions or other Black perspectives into the lessons they already have. Teachers can also specifically address historical omissions where there is a white person getting credit for some invention in a textbook, when in reality there were many Black people behind the scenes that contributed to the invention as well. Jensen continues, “the perception that there aren’t that many [Black contributors] is coming from that history of ignorance.”
For other Oyster River students or teachers who would like to educate themselves and recognize Black History Month, members of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) club put together a calendar of virtual events, movies, podcasts, and even places in NH people can visit to gain proper insight on Black history. The calendar includes resources from Black perspectives to help people truly understand their voices and opinions.
Class Schoology pages also have great resources for students to look at. Every week for the month of February, a list of influential Black people is posted. So far, there is information posted on Shirley Chisholm, Claudette Colvin, Mae Jemison, and many others. Check out your class Schoology page to read more about each person!
Although Black History Month is only a month, many Oyster River members are hoping to continue their efforts to recognize Black excellence. Jensen said, “Black History Month is a great time to learn and celebrate but it’s really something we can do all the time.” Continuing to watch documentaries, keeping up with news on racial injustice,spreading awareness, and supporting Black-owned businesses are just some easy ways to be an ally this month and all year round.
Artwork by Kata Discoe (’22)