Ask most youth about black history and it will go something like this: black people were slaves and then Abe Lincoln set them free. After that, Martin Luther King Jr. marched and Rosa Parks said no to a white man on a bus so that black people could sit in the front even though most of the time they still sit in the back. Then, Obama became president and the struggle was over.
The extent of our knowledge of black history is based simply on what the textbooks and movies say about it. Textbooks in our classrooms often include one to two paragraphs about slavery and the civil rights movement, simplifying our history to a couple of events. In more ways than not, our generation is repeating the past without even knowing it. The black man that chooses not to go to school puts himself in the same position as the black man that could not go to school. The great grandson that chooses not to get a job puts himself in the same position as his great grandfather that could not get a job. The granddaughter that chooses not to vote puts herself in the same position as her grandmother that could not vote.
With all of the opportunities and open doors that were essentially handed to our generation, the question becomes: Why are we repeating history? Why aren’t we graduating? Why are we not succeeding? Why are we joining gangs and killing each other? It’s simple. If we don’t know where we came from, we’ll never know where we’re going. School systems have provided little insight on black history. An increase in quality out of school programming that incorporates history to promote leadership and academic success will help to bridge this gap.
Teaching positive messages pertaining to culture and history play a very important role in the foundation of future success. History teaches that through determination, resilience, and ingenuity one can overcome any obstacle in the face of any form of adversity or oppression. Compared to the circumstances present in most of our history, this generation has unspeakable, tremendous opportunity to do and be anything. However, as stated before, if we don’t know where we came from, we’ll never know where we’re going. Considering the magnitude of the advances made throughout our history, how could we not use what we know to further transform our society and engage and empower youth at the same time? Leveraging culture and history as tools to develop leadership among youth will help build better futures. Furthermore, the advancement of youth in the present based on the knowledge of the past will lead to the prosperity of Minnesota in the future.
Youthprise, an intermediary and funder founded by the McKnight Foundation, seeks to examine the connection between history and the future success of Minnesota youth through three events designed to reposition Black culture as a strength toward building and supporting the academic success and leadership capacity of youth. The series, Renewing Hope in the Promise of Minnesota’s Youth in partnership with Cultural Wellness Center will promote practices and approaches from history that can be effective in closing today’s opportunity gap and improving outcomes for youth.
The first event on Tuesday, February 26, 8:30 am is the Philanthropy Breakfast co-sponsored by the African American Leadership Forum and Minnesota Blacks in Philanthropy. Open to public and private funders and other stakeholders, this event will engage in dialogue about how to support efforts toward building leadership and learning opportunities for young people.
The second event on Wednesday, February 27, 8:30 am is the Parent Forum co-sponsored by St. Paul Public Schools. Open to the public, this event will accentuate strengths in African American culture and offer practical strategies parents can apply as they seek to develop their children’s leadership skills and support their academic success.
The third event is the Community Forum on February 27, 5:30 pm. Open to the public, this event will include a range of presentations and performances by local youth involved in out-of-school time programs. Local sheroes and heroes will be honored for their work in building the capacity of young people. The program will close with an intergenerational choir comprised of the Grammy Award Winning Sounds of Blackness and Coon Rapids High School Gospel Choir. The keynote speaker will be the “Godfather of Black Psychology,” Dr. Joseph L. White, PH.D., a pioneer of promoting culturally relevant practices in the field of psychology, education, and youth development.
Research shows that the engagement of young people in pursuits that affirm racial pride and promote positive connections to their culture lead to positive impacts on academic performance. Knowing more than just simple events in history will lead to significant change among our young people. An oversimplified history dependent on simple textbooks and paragraphs take our culture absolutely nowhere. History teaches that there is nothing too big or too difficult to overcome. Let us create a culture of more successful young leaders, going beyond the classroom, creating communities rich in history and culture so that when it comes time to ask a young person about their history, their response will be more than simplified events with little significance.
For more information, contact the Cultural Wellness Center at 612-721-5745 or visit www.youthprise.org.