Black History Month is a celebration and acknowledgment of Black excellence and accomplishments. Although the fight for racial equality is far from over, it is quite important to recognize the steps that have been taken from all aspects—internationally, nationally, and locally.

How did it start?

Eleven years after the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—created by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland—was founded, the association sponsored the first Negro History Week in 1926. A week in February was chosen to highlight black history as it has both the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, a prominent abolitionist and activist, as well as Abraham Lincoln.

As the years grew, the popularity of the celebration grew as well. By the 1960’s, the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, several Black teachers were teaching Black history along with the U.S. history curriculum and many cities across the nation were celebrating Negro History Week, even pushing for the celebration to be extended to the full month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month of February as Black History Month.

Why is it important?

As protests have erupted across the world in response to the unjust killings of innocent Black individuals, addressing the history of Black suppression and amplifying those voices has never been more relevant. Although these protests have been occurring for several years, it seems as if little action has been taken to educate and prevent racially-motivated violence against Black people. Even with the great uproar that the murder of George Floyd caused, very little legislation has been passed to combat this issue.

By teaching Black history, more conversations can be sparked about race and race-related issues. In acknowledging previous racial injustices and systemic issues that exist today, we can teach accountability and reconciliation will be a far more viable option.

What is the community doing?

Several alumni of Waukesha and other high schools in Southeast Wisconsin are calling upon their former administrators to push for change in their schools. Many are asking for schools to educate their students further on the history of racial inequality within the nation and to help them understand the steps that must be taken to overcome them. It is of common understanding that education is vital to the development and furtherment of change.

The Waukesha School District Equity Leadership Team has been collaborating together to “provide a system where equity is the foundation of our district.” They have also promised to help SDW educators become more culturally aware “by embracing and acknowledging diversity to our growing population of diverse learners.” One representative from each school in the district as well as a School Board member, two community partners, and three SDW district administrators all make up the Leadership Team. Mr. Propson, one of our Chemistry teachers, is our representative for Waukesha South.

Last summer the school district initially stated they were looking forward “to continue to work with our director of equity to ensure district-wide culturally responsive practices that will address equity in achievement, discipline, curriculum and policy.” However, though things were seemingly moving forward, former Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos were welcomed to the Saratoga Campus of Waukesha STEM Academy by the School District. As Pence and DeVos were both part of an administration that refused to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter, this seemed like a step backward for alumni calling for change.

What is Waukesha South doing?

A display outside the library highlighting the accomplishments of prominent Black women throughout history. Source: @southblackstudentunion on Instagram

Black students at Waukesha South have formed the Black Student Union (BSU) to address and work to resolve issues of racial injustice in school and in society. When asked the following questions, students answered with these responses:

How can South do more for Black students?

“South can do more for their Black students by letting them be heard. We want to educate Waukesha South in various ways but we need the open minds of others to even be noticed.” - William Coleman

How can South students and staff be more aware of Black history and its significance?

“Hold a seminar—an open, comfortable space, where we can talk and ask questions.” - Jennesis Taylor

How can we celebrate Black history more often?

"SHOWCASES, take part in class discussions, HAVE class discussions, come to our BSU movie nights (when we have them). BSU is not only for our comfort, but for the community to understand us..."  - William Coleman

What do you think are the steps the nation can take to combat racism?

“First, eliminate the ‘N’ word entirely, along with blurting them in songs. Second, no police officers should be allowed to use a gun or taser on someone who doesn’t have a weapon, and if so, they must be restricted from their job and charged. Third, just famous people using their platform to spread awareness.” - Jamie Hopson

What does Black History Month mean to you?

“History that teaches us how to move forward, instead of backward. Also struggles of those before, so we can have the opportunities we do now.” - Jennesis Taylor

Are there any statements or questions that are frustrating to hear as a Black student?

“Statements I hate hearing as an African-American male is ‘why do you talk white or act white?’, ‘why is he trying to act black?" It’s annoying when people say stuff like that.” - CJ Johnson

Although many steps have been taken to our goal of racial equity, there is still much to be done before we have achieved it. Here are some resources where you can learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement and support organizations that are making a change.