How to Teach Your Kids (& Yourself) About Black History Month
Since the 2016 presidential election, we've seen a lot of (positive and negative) change in American society. Yet amid seemingly countless tragedies, powerful movements for change — from #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo and #TimesUp to the Women's March — are growing and thriving. Today, for kids and adults alike, it's crucial to learn about our country's history in order to better educate those who are underinformed or uninformed. And black history is an immense part of that national history. If you haven't brushed up on your facts lately, here's where you can begin.
First, explain to your kids what "black history" means
What is Black History Month? It is a 28-day recognition of the achievements of all black folks, but specifically African-Americans. Originally called "Negro History Week" (ugh) in February of 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life, the annual celebration became a monthlong event and was renamed sometime after the 1960s.
The purpose of this month is to celebrate the endeavors and accomplishments of black people throughout history — from the inventor of the Eder-Berry biopsy gastroscope to the first black president. But most important, it's about the epic challenges and struggles black Americans have had to overcome in order to reach those successes — from slavery to the civil rights struggles that are still ongoing today.
Second, read up on diversity
Let's be honest. Talking about diversity isn't always easy, especially when that discussion is with young children. But luckily, there are many books for kids and adults that teach powerful black history subjects in colorful and enlightening ways. Here is some of the best black history reading out there for adults so you can read up before tackling the topic with your kids.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker
- Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis
- Negroland: A Memoirby Margo Jefferson
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
If your child is school-age, here are a few great books — available at local libraries, bookstores and even via e-book — to suggest they read or that you can read together. These stories are great for sparking an important conversation about racial equality — and there are a lot more books out there about all forms of diversity.
- The Crayon Box That Talked by Shane Derolf (ages 3 and up)
- Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.by Doreen Rappaport (ages 5 to 8)
- Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards (age 8 to 12)
- 50 Black Women Who Changed America by Amy Alexander (ages 12 and up)
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker (ages 14 and up)
Next, watch history together
There are a variety of ways to teach kids about black history, and watching movies just happens to be one of the most fun methods. What kid would object to grabbing a snack, popping in a movie and getting comfortable to learn about important topics? You can stream a film on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon — we recommend The Loving Story or Barry as well as the 1977 miniseries Roots(and its 2016 revival).
Invite kids to listen to inspiring black musical artists
Crank up some tunes for a Black History Month party with the kids. Put on some Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Grace Jones, Beyoncé, Kanye West (OK, maybe just the PG-13 songs) and let the music speak for itself. Just don't try to list every talented black singer, songwriter, producer, musician, etc. — that would take centuries.
Teach them about black icons
There have been great black Americans throughout history. From the original black legends (like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass) to Civil Rights Movement icons (like Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, and Audre Lorde) to the amazing black leaders of your kids' lifetime (hi, Obamas!) black activists, authors and thinkers have shaped what America is today. Inventors like Leonidas Berry and George Washington Carver, authors like Maya Angelou and Lorraine Hansberry, lawyers like George Washington Williams, educators like Booker T. Washington, politicians like Shirley Chisholm and Maxine Waters, major business owners like Chris Gardner... black Americans have made countless contributions to our country.
Sites to learn even more
Thanks to the internet, you can explore black history with your children and learn together. Some of our favorite resources for Black History Month include: