History a reflection of the past, and a teacher for the future
The breadth and depth of Black history goes far beyond 28 days in February
By: Shahara McGee
Magistra Vitae, a Latin word meaning “life’s teacher,” was used by Cicero in his De Oratore as a representation of history. It expresses the idea that the study of history serves as a lesson for the future. History plays the role of a teacher in many ways. It helps us develop our political knowledge and opinions, informs our analysis of present-day events and moral issues and is the road map to one’s self-conception. As stated by UCLA’s College of Social Sciences initiative, historical memory is the key to self-identity, to seeing one’s place in the stream of time, and one’s connectedness with all of humankind.
Feeling connected to the culture and society one lives in provides a sense of ownership and can lead to a great sense of purpose. It’s noted as one of the main reasons why men and women sign up to sacrifice their lives serving in the military for their county. When an individual feels disconnected from their culture and its history, research shows us a significant negative disruption takes place in a youth’s development. According to research by Lisa Wexler of John Hopkins University, a lack of accurate knowledge, or primarily hearing about the historical traumas of one’s culture can create a sense of grief, stress, and identify conflicts that impact a youth’s ability to have positive self-esteem and perception.
When I think back to the role history, specifically black history, has had in my self-development, I’m reminded of a time in high school during my ninth or 10th-grade year when my teacher proceeded to present a typical Black History Month lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. — one I had heard many times before. As she proceeded, I found myself feeling frustrated and bored. It wasn’t that the lesson was any less important than others, it was that I was tired of hearing about the same people year-after-year. The frustration I felt inspired me to approach my teacher after class and share my thoughts with her. Our conversation led to me developing a lesson to present the next day on someone I wanted to learn about for Black History Month. As I researched that night, I came across so many different people who I wanted to know more about. I remember my excitement and interest overwhelming me, making it difficult to decide on whom to teach. Having no prior experience on how to prepare a lesson and teach a class, my lesson was all over the place as I tried to share about a few of the people I thought were amazing. While the details are fuzzy on whom I chose, I remember leaving class feeling prouder in myself and my heritage. That day, I found an appreciation and value in my history that I had never known before.
Growing up in a mix of two worlds — my rural Ohio middle school and high school environments that were predominately Caucasian, and in Cleveland where my family was were all black and the area was much more urban — created an imbalance in my cultural awareness and individual self-perception. Bouncing between both worlds made me great at adapting to my environment, but left me constantly searching for a connection to something more concrete, which I know now as purpose and pride. This experience made the importance history plays in the role of positive youth development more evident.
The legacy of African Americans and blacks across the globe is much greater than the stories of slavery, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. While those stories are important, it is vital and a personal moral imperative, to share the breadth and depth of Black History, showing what it is and means to the world. It’s not just about honoring those few known for the 28 days of February. It’s about everyday seizing the opportunities before us to use the vastness of history to inspire, educate and develop our youth into the positive and impactful leaders we want for the future.
This charge is not just for educators and historians, but for community members, family, friends, spiritual leaders and mentors. Beyond the month of February, Black History is being made and should be shared and celebrated. How are you developing the young people connected to you with black history?
UCLA College of Social Sciences. (2021, February 17). Significance of History for the Educated Citizen. Retrieved from UCLA History/Public History Initiative.
Wexler, L. (2009). The Importance of Identity, History, and Culture in the Wellbeing of Indigenous Youth. The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, pp. 267-276.