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These Philly educators are calling for a more action-focused teaching of Black history

A three-part memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. stands at the intersection of 40th Street and Lancaster and Haverford avenues in Mantua. February 10, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedPurposeShort
Yaasiyn Muhammad, a curriculum specialist with the School District of Philadelphia, and fellow Teacher Action Group (TAG) member Ismael Jimenez realized that existing Black history lessons were lacking. Early last year, they decided to do something about it.

Black history became a mandated course in Philadelphia in 2005. At the time, there was a big push for professional development for teachers around the subject, but that’s since waned, according to Muhammad.

“With that lack of understanding, there are gaps in the teaching of race and critical theory,” he said. “It needs to be taught in a liberatory way and now, that’s not what’s happening.”

By that he means Black history is taught as events on a timeline with no focus on how students can move their knowledge into action — such as starting their own organizations or collecting data on their communities, said fellow education activist Stacy Hill.

“That seems to be a missing element” in education in general, she said.

In early 2016, Muhammad and Jiminez hosted their first TAG “Inquiry to Action” discussion on the topic of teaching Black history — what’s changed since Black history first became an academic subject, how teachers of Black history can share resources — with other teachers, students and activists.

They wanted to formalize those discussions, though. Hill joined them as an organizer, and from there, the group began to develop a curriculum focused on the past 50 years of Black History in America.

“We want to make sure that [time period] is told in its entirety,” Muhammad said.

Enter the inaugural Philadelphia Black History Collaborative Conference, happening this Saturday, Feb. 11, at Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. The event will feature intergenerational panels and breakout sessions around the theme of “Oppression, Resistance and Accommodation: Contextualizing the Modern Black Experience” and the topics of self-defense, pan-Africanism, incarceration, food justice, and education and politics.

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The list of speaker includes Princeton’s Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.” Local spoken word artist Greg Corbin will perform in the opening ceremony.

Muhammad said he wants the conference to help educators feel supported in their teaching of Black history.

Registration is closed for the event, but keep an eye on this group: They aim to make change.

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