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January 26, 2022: Walk Through Black Brilliance

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, author of The Miseducation of the Negro, is credited with planting the seed that would eventually blossom into what we know as Black History Month. Woodson was particularly concerned about the absence of the contributions of African Americans in the curriculum of K-12 schools. To that end, more than 100 years ago, Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and launched the Journal of African American History. 

Still, despite volumes and hundreds of thousands of journal pages that provide just a glimpse of Black intellectualism, every year around this time we see the same 5-10 Black “history makers” lifted up and celebrated. Get ready for more images of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and Shirley Chisolm and Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X. And of course, there will be more screen time for Barack Obama and Kamala Harris. 

In Dr. Woodson’s time, schools were racially segregated and he was right to bemoan the absence of African Americans in the curriculum. Following the “desegregation” of schools in the 1950s, a critique of the absence of Black teachers in the classroom would also have been warranted. A 2020 report by the Department of Education indicates that 80% of K-12 teachers in the United States are white and only 6.3% are Black/African American. Black teachers are severely underrepresented in K-12 schools considering that Black people are approximately 13.4% of the U.S. population. 

“Every child deserves a Black teacher.” This is the motto of the Black Teacher Project. This non-profit, founded by Dr. Micia Mosely, works to support, sustain, and retain Black teachers because they recognize (and research supports) that all students benefit from exposure to Black teachers. Every student also deserves a Black professor. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the 1.5 million full-time college faculty, only 6% are Black. At Whitman, there are currently 3 Black faculty. Not 3 percent, but 3 total. 

With Black faculty at just over 1% at Whitman, we must recognize what we lose as an institution as a result. I previously organized a program called Walk Through Black Brilliance. The goal of the program was to expose a community with limited direct access to Black faculty to different Black scholars, artists, and thought leaders. We designed and exhibited dozens of tri-fold displays featuring brilliance in Black. This was an important activity in an environment where students are both routinely exposed to narratives of anti-Blackness and are taught by a majority white faculty. While we are not able to put an event like this together this year, I want to issue a challenge to the Whitman community. 

I have listed below 28 brilliant Black people – one for each day in February. I would encourage you to take some time over the next few weeks to research these folks if you don’t know who they are and give yourself an opportunity to just bask in their brilliance. But the challenge is that before Black History Month 2022 ends, I want you to submit 28 of your own. Follow this link and enter the names of 28 brilliant Black people. The Division of Diversity and Inclusion will compile and curate the list, remove any duplications, and share it with the Whitman community at the end of the month. As you approach this activity, think about how easy or difficult it is for you to generate 28 names. Then think about why. Think about how many of the names that come to mind will be of entertainers or athletes. Then think about why. Think about how many Whitman folks will read this and not even consider accepting this challenge. Then think about why.

N. K. Jemisin

Melissa Harris Perry

Kara Walker

Katherine Dunham

William Barber

Greg Carr

Kimberly Drew

Tobe Nwigwe

Ryan Coogler

Janet Mock

jon a. powell

Derrick Bell

Resma Menakem 

Yasiin Bey

Robert M. Sellers

D. L. Stewart 

Tricia Rose

Cheryl Grills

Jesmyn Ward

Haben Girma

Issa Rae

Ijeoma Oluo

Kimberly Latrice Jones

Ahmir Khalib Thompson

Marc Bamuthi Joseph

A.D. Carson

Bettina Love

Sonya Renee Taylor

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