On Black History Month

February 23, 2019

This has been a good Black History Month for me, with storytelling performances in several area schools and libraries. Still nothing like the 80s and 90s, when I'd be fully booked by October, reserving two calendar days for rest and passing along gigs I couldn't do to other performers.  But I'm grateful for the work and am still recognizing ways to improve as an artist and entrepreneur.

My strangest experience was at the small private school where I've been teaching music for three years. During that time there have only been a few African-American students enrolled; this year only one. In mid-February I was approached by the director and head teacher. The conversation went something like this:

Them (awkward and stammering): Hi, Miss Shanta. You know February is Black History Month.  We're not black but you are.

Me: That's obvious

Them: Well we were wondering, for the rest of the month, if you could teach the children all about black music. You know, blues, gospel, jazz.

Me: I've been doing that all along. 

They continued naively to ask how they could learn and teach their students about black history. I suggested books. They asked what books and where to find them. I naively suggested that they start with the books in their school library. But when I looked through said library I found only TWO, neither of them age/grade appropriate.

The whole encounter left me sizzling, spitting mad. This is 2019!! They pretend to be educators, yet so isolated in their own community that it had only just dawned on them that it might be good to gaze outward. I am certain that they are not alone.

I sent the director some links for recommended book lists. The head teacher sat in on my next class, taking copious notes.  I reviewed the African and African-American songs and dances in our class repertoire and utilized the books Freedom in Congo Square and This Jazz Man in a lesson of history and music, for the students and their teachers.

God help us all.