At Montour High School, roughly 60 proud African Americans make up the 1,000-student-body, and this Black History Month, their voices are ready to be heard. So far this year, young adults have proven themselves as catalysts of change in the political world--our students are no exception. Montour’s black community has stepped forward to honor Black History Month’s monumental figures, and how it is a critical time to address issues facing our generation.
“The purpose of black history month is to recognize all blacks and what we’re known for--just to let everybody know the accomplishments that we had and our history. A lot of schools and people don’t really know that much,” begins Senior Sha’niya Whitley.
Being over 240 years old, the United States has a rich history, but the curriculum taught to its students certainly has its flaws. For instance, the limited black history that is covered in the classroom focuses around the horrendous details of slavery, painting an impractical picture for the role of African Americans. As a minority, the group confessed that it can be exasperating not to be culturally represented.
With these restricted topics, countless stories of America’s tremendous black figures can be obscured from the history books, shadowing the daring and revolutionary figures African Americans should be associated with. In the 2016 film, Hidden Figures directed by Theodore Melfi, a stunning example of these unknown leaders surfaced. It highlights the true story of three brilliant African Americans-Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson-and their contributions to the empowering launch of astronaut John Glenn during the Space Race.
“For the movie Hidden Figures, no one told us that there were three black women who dealt with something like that...I learned about it myself,” includes Sha’niya Whitley, bringing light to a pivotal point in African American history.
To spread awareness about African American culture in a predominately white school, one student suggested to form a Black Student Union, or BSU. However, others were leery about the idea, expressing that when some fellow classmates see them together they’re considered “ghetto.”
For this reason, education is vital in order to break these slang terms. Rather than being perceived as “ghetto”, taking the initiative to form this club shows that the black community is willing to make a knowledgeable, active difference. At the same time, they are uncovering the authentic role African Americans have made--concealed by media outlets when racism was a societal norm.
Another thought was that the club shouldn’t be the only step being taken. “We all can come together as a black union, and talk about what we already know. We need to educate what they [people] don’t know. Education needs to be going through the classroom-not just for us. Our voices need to be heard,” comments Senior Torry Fisher.
Even though the group’s consensus is that African Americans are more accepted today than in the 1960s--the time period of Hidden Figures, stereotypes and criticism lingers.
“If I have weave in, it’s a problem. I have to basically walk around and look like a white girl, trying to represent myself to look like a white girl, but I’m a black girl,” says senior Reina Stevenson.
“Clothing-wise I’m really shy to wear our material to school,” adds Kokoevi Lawson, referring to her traditional African clothing.
High school teens are notorious for criticizing one another for not blending in with the crowd, especially regarding fashion. Instead of regarding the vibrant and intricate patterns on these pieces as odd, educating classmates on rich African culture may help them realize they are works of art. Guiding people through the heritage and significance of this clothing will not only gain their trust, but they will learn the value of acceptance.
Meanwhile, all students should feel comfortable with their background, whether it’s race or gender. When people do not understand the unknown, their automatic response is to mock or ridicule.
“People don’t realize what they do is racist sometimes,” affirms Amir Seay.
Hearing racist comments aren’t just from teenagers being cruel--Montour’s black community faces similar circumstances out in public. In fact, several interviewees mentioned being followed by grocery store clerks based solely off of their skin color.
“They’ll see black kids walk into a store and automatically think we’d steal,” said a frustrated Sha’niya Whitley.
As modern role models emerge, the media’s interpretation of black people may help improve society’s outlook. Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, is a Fantasy/Science fiction movie containing an almost entirely African American cast with outstanding talent. Since its release in 2018, the film has received phenomenal reviews and received a sensational 704 million USD in the box office.
Gushing about its quality, Whitley showed her immense appreciation for the film. “Even though some people don’t know that it is involved with a Marvel movie...It’s nice to see that they have a black superhero...In the movie we’re not portrayed as drug dealers, being on drugs, ghetto, and living poorly.” Then again, she knows that progress towards equality is gradual and even hopeless at times. “There may be somewhat a little change but it’s always going to have that certain stereotype.”
On the same note, fighting for equality should not be restricted to just one month. To make strides, many in the group believe that awareness and action should be taken all year round.
“It’s one month through all twelve that’s strictly for us,” emphasizes Torry Fisher. “We need more than one month. We need twelve.”
“I’m not saying I don’t like having black history month, but I just feel like recognizing just this month makes it an assumption that the rest of the months have nothing to do with us,” said Amir Seay.
According to Seay, being a proper African American role model means to be “proud and black” as well as “having your skin as a recognition of what you are.”
For the black community at Montour, this means embracing their culture, and teaching others acceptance through education.
“As the seniors say farewell, the African American underclassmen must band together to bring the Hilltop’s student body into one,” concludes Amir Seay.
No matter what background our students have, Black History Month is a step towards showing our students to coexist in harmony.