5 Things I Wish Educators Would Think About When Teaching Black History Month

Blog post by Dr. Artika R. Tyner titled "5 Ideas for Educators Teaching Black History Month" with book cover images of The Untold Story of Annie Turnbo Malone and The Untold Story of Sarah Keys Evans
Headshot photo of author Dr. Artika R. Tyner

Dr. Artika R. Tyner

5 Things I Wish Educators Would Think About When Teaching Black History Month

January 2, 2023


Black History Month serves as an invitation to build an inclusive classroom by engaging all learners. It can provide students with an opportunity to find inspiration from Black leaders who have made a difference. A student may be inspired by NASA’s first Black female engineer, Mary W. Jackson, to explore a career in STEM. While another student may decide to become an entrepreneur after learning about Reginald Lewis, the first Black business leader to build a billion-dollar company.

Through my writings, I seek to inspire Black children to find the role models that motivate them to learn, grow, and lead. It follows the notion that you cannot be what you cannot see.

For Black children, these leaders are not always featured in mainstream texts. Even if they are, they are celebrated only during Black History Month. My goal is to celebrate the accomplishments of Black leaders year-round and to incorporate their accomplishments into the lessons taught about American history.


1. Who founded Black History Month?

During each of my school visits during Black History Month, I start with this question. I have yet to hear a correct answer from students, parents, or teachers. I receive a range of answers from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to Rosa Parks or Ruby Bridges. It is wonderful to see these remarkable heroes and sheroes highlighted.

However, it demonstrates the need for exploring the origins of Black History Month and its significance. It was founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson with the launch of Negro History Week in 1926. His goal was to celebrate and honor Black achievements and build a legacy of change.


2. Why is Black History Month celebrated in February?

Some believe that celebrating Black History Month in February is meant to minimize the significance of the contributions of the Black community to American history since it is a mere 28 days (except during Leap Year).

The truth of the matter is Dr. Woodson selected the month of February since it is the birth month of two individuals whom he deeply admired. They were Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass who both played a role in abolishing slavery. Historically, celebrations were held on their birthdays which are the 12th (Lincoln) and 14th (Douglass). Woodson wanted to create a bridge between this tradition and create a practice of honoring the past contributions of the Black community.


3. Why does representation in books matter?

Black books serve as a vital learning tool for all students. According to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University, this supports the creation of both mirrors and windows. Mirrors for young people of color to see a positive representation of themselves on the pages of books. In addition, windows can be created where all children build bridges across cultures.

“Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.” Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.

You can take intentional action of diversifying your library by exploring book lists from the Black Children’s Book Week, Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and African American Literature Book Club.


4. How can you cultivate the genius of Black children?

Educators serve as treasure hunters. They help to unveil the treasures hidden in each student. However, the treasures of Black children are often overlooked due to biases, stereotypes, and prejudices. For instance, Black children are less likely to be identified as gifted and talented despite their aptitude and abilities. Expectation gaps can also divert students from pipelines of success to the school-to-prison pipeline. Black students are four times more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for the same kind of conduct at school. This trend starts as early as preschool. Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white preschoolers.

Instead, educators can focus on unveiling the talents of Black children and cultivating their genius.

“Genius is a terrible thing to waste, but a glorious thing to cultivate.” Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan, author of Cultivating the Genius of Black Children: Strategies to Close the Achievement Gap in the Early Years.

This is a process of educating, engaging, and inspiring all children through culturally responsive teaching practices. These practices celebrate the diverse languages and cultures of students. It also encourages parental involvement and community engagement in the learning experience.

5. How can you celebrate Black History year-round?

Book cover images of The Untold Story of Annie Turnbo Malone: Hair Care Millionaire and The Untold Story of Sarah Keys Evans: Civil Rights Soldier, both written by Dr. Artika R. TynerBook cover images of The Untold Story of Annie Turnbo Malone: Hair Care Millionaire and The Untold Story of Sarah Keys Evans: Civil Rights Soldier, both written by Dr. Artika R. Tyner

Each day provides an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans. In the First But Forgotten series, I showcase Black unsung heroes and sheroes:

  • Annie Turnbo Malone built a multi-million dollar empire in the hair care industry. She also served as a philanthropist who supported education initiatives.
  • Rosa Parks’ brave actions led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. But other Black women challenged segregation in transportation like Ida B. Wells and Dovey Johnson. Three years earlier, Sarah Keys Evans—a veteran—refused to give up her seat on a bus while traveling through the South. 
  • Jonathan Parker was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Ohio.  He crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky to help enslaved people gain their freedom. Between 1845 and 1865, he helped free about 1,000 enslaved people.

As I wrote these books, I became motivated to write more books about Black history. I had never heard of the leaders profiled until I began researching for this series. This was a missed opportunity to learn more about their contributions to the betterment of society and discover ways to emulate these strategies to address the social justice challenges of the 21st Century.


By exploring these five areas, I hope you will be motivated to learn more about Black History Month. This will support you in building an inclusive classroom where students can find inspiration from Black History-makers.

You also have the opportunity to remind Black students and all of your students that they can change the course of history and make a difference in the world. History has shown us that young people have always been at the forefront of social change movements, whether it be the Freedom Riders of the past or Dream Defenders of our present. Here is your opportunity to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders.

About the Author
Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a passionate educator, an award-winning author, a civil rights attorney, a sought-after speaker, and an advocate for justice committed to helping children discover their leadership potential and serve as change agents in the global community. She is the author of several nonfiction children's books including The Untold Story of Sarah Keys Evans: Civil Rights Soldier and The Courageous Six Triple Eight: The All-Black Female Battalion of World War II. Dr. Tyner is the founder of the Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, a nonprofit focused on promoting literacy and diversity in books.


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