Ask any elderly Black person, and any Black historian in general, and likely they’ll tell you what a pivotal role the Black church played during the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s. It was where protests were planned, where leaders congregated, where the community came to support each other, where resources were shared with Black people in need and it was often where the Black youth was educated in lieu of an American institution of education that was unwilling to teach anything that would empower any generation of Black Americans.
And now there’s a certain loud and powerful segment of the U.S. that is bound and determined to “make America great again” by restoring mainstream American culture to one that ignores the nation’s deep history of racism and its effect on Modern-day America; one that oppresses and seeks the subjugation of the non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual and non-cis-gendered; one that moves to disenfranchise voters of color and one that is currently on a mission to uphold the whitewashing of American history to the benefit of white people and expense of everyone else. This means the Black church must, once again, take on the role of educating the communities they serve, and none of these churches know the importance of that like the ones in Florida.
Now that Florida has approved teaching K-12 students that enslaved people benefited from slavery, approved classroom materials provided by PragerU—which was founded by a proud racist and produced “educational” videos teaching that Frederick Douglass would have agreed with America’s choice to prioritize white supremacy over ending slavery—and rejected an Advanced Placement course covering African American Studies, hundreds of Black congregations around the Sunshine State have taken it upon themselves to teach what America won’t.
“My initial reaction was…disbelief, and then it turned to anger,” Pastor Alphonso Jackson Jr. of New Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Miami told NBC News of his feelings regarding Florida’s new standard for lying about American slavery.
Jackson is now using an online toolkit created by activist group Faith in Florida. The toolkit is essentially a one-stop shop for books, documentaries and videos that can pick up the slack that the Florida education system leaves in its teaching of U.S. history. (*gestures widely toward literally everything important to non-white people*)
The toolkit is also being used by Pastor Sharon Riley of Agape Perfecting Praise & Worship Center in Orlando, which taught its first African-American history masterclass last week to an audience of about 100 parishioners, including a group of middle school boys.
“Because we have families who have students who are registered in our public school system, we know that there are certain pieces of information relevant to our history that are not going to be taught,” Riley told NPR. The class was taught by Faith in Florida’s LaVon Bracy.
Here’s a little more on the toolkit, according to NPR:
This toolkit is not a curriculum but a guide with recommended books, documentaries to watch and articles to read. It covers the history of the Transatlantic slave trade through the Civil Rights Movement to the killing of George Floyd.
Bracy said Black churches need to make sure children get the full picture.
“So we want the true history of America to be known. And so that can only be done if you tell the truth about what has happened. And learn from that. So that will not be repeated again,” said Bracy.
The course culminates with a trip to Alabama in the spring. They’ll visit some of the most important sites of the Civil Rights Movement.
Eric Smaw is the Chair of Philosophy at Rollins College near Orlando. He thinks these toolkits are a great idea.
“And so now it’s up to us to make sure that we stay engaged, we stay knowledgeable, we stay committed to the fight for civil liberties, because those who want to constrain your civil liberties, will stay committed on the opposite side,” said Smaw.
The great thing about this—besides the fact that there are places Black kids can go to learn history that isn’t centered around appeasing white fragility—is that neither Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis nor his rabid band of woke-averse Florida education officials can really do anything about this. It’s not like they can yank a church’s tax-exempt status because they don’t like what the shepherd is teaching its flock. That’s why Black pastors have never really needed to be shy about the way they tell the truth about America. (*cough, cough Rev. Jeremiah Wright cough, cough*) So, unless DeSantis and his white-nationalists-against-wokeness pals plan to start bombing Black churches the way white people did the last time America was “great,” all they can do is leave these Black congregations to their own devices—and that means allowing the youth to learn instead of being indoctrinated by those purporting to fight indoctrination.
It’s a start, at least.
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