KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It may be summer break, but a group of local educators have spent the past week working to improve their curriculum, specifically focusing on how to incorporate more Black history.
Around 40 educators attended a workshop at Central Missouri’s Missouri Innovation Campus called the Racial Equity and Learning Project. It was hosted by Races United, an organization dedicated to ending systemic racism.
Middle school teacher Ben Gipson was one of the attendees. He said his goal is to find ways to highlight the multi-dimensional aspects of Black history within the broader American culture.
"Black history is full of joyful things," he said. "It's curated so many different elements of American tradition, that it's hard to only look at the bad when so much good has come as well."
Gipson said he hopes by shifting curriculum from a Eurocentric point of view to a more multicultural one, his students will find inspiration and validation.
"I think that's the cool thing is they're starting to see, 'Oh, actually, I'm represented in history. There are stories that have been told by my grandparents, by my parents and even further along, that showed the beauty and tradition and the hardships that they have had to face,'" Gipson said. "Giving them that history helps them understand where they've came from, but it also gives them the opportunity to see where they can continue to grow."
Another workshop participant, Cornell Ellis, was a full-time teacher for 10 years before he founded BLOC, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of Black male educators in schools.
He said representation is vital, not only in who students are learning from but also the stories they are learning about.
"We talk a lot about like a monolithic history that's often told, a one sided story, or maybe two or three archetypal figures throughout Black history," Ellis said. "Not only are there more unknown figures and facts and history in Black history, but there's also multiple sides and perspectives to the same archetypal figures that we've latched on to our whole lives. And it's important that we tell not only every single story and every single perspective, but all sides of those stories as well and that we're able to humanize Black history."
Ellis said he hopes to incorporate more lessons about slave rebellions, "in order to really flip the narrative of talking about slaves to more enslaved people who actually have full range of emotions and capabilities for resistance."
On day one of the four-day workshop, the educators listened to a presentation by Dr. LaGarrett King, director of the Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education at the University of Missouri.
King developed a framework for teaching Black history, that the educators who attended the workshop, will use in crafting their lesson plans.
On day two, they heard presentations from several community partners to learn about the various resources available to them.
One of those partners was the Kansas City Public Library and specifically, the Missouri Valley Special Collections.
"We want to make sure that everyone, whether you're an educator or a student [or] an interested parent, can access these materials and learn more about the stories of folks in Kansas City," Matt Reeves, Education and Outreach Librarian at the Missouri Valley Special Collections said.
That collection features thousands of digitized photographs and other material related to the history of the Kansas City region. It's available to anyone online, or in person at the Central Library branch.
"When we can come up with these materials, we can give a voice to people that have been traditionally marginalized or not heard," Reeves said.
Days three and four of the workshop consisted of time for the educators to build new lesson plans with this renewed focus on Black history.
Once approved by an advisory board and the Races United Education Committee, those plans will be made available for free to any teacher who wishes to use them.
"What my job is doing, is revolutionizing and politicizing education for young black kids, so that they see that education is an avenue to change the world," Ellis said.
More information can be found on the Races United website.