Celebrating Black History Month In February and Beyond

Celebrating+Black+History+Month+In+February+and+Beyond

February in Plano West entails many exciting activities; among them is the celebration and education of Black History Month for the student body.

Black History Month was first celebrated as Black History Week in 1926, in response to the lack of access to public information about Black accomplishments. In 1976 the celebration was extended to a month by President Gerald Ford to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

As a diverse campus, several Plano West organizations plan to highlight racial equality by having various educational events in the upcoming weeks. Among the different programs offered, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Development, a class that teaches students financial literacy, college readiness, and career paths) plans a multitude of opportunities for students to immerse themselves in the Black History Month celebration.

“In today’s social climate where identity plays such a big role, it’s so important for young generations, especially young black generations, to know about their history from one hundred and two hundred years ago in this country,” said Ms. Sharonda Blakely, AVID advisor. “It’s important to see where you come from in order to know where you’re going; people without history are people lost.”

As firm believers that Black History Month is a great opportunity for uplifting students, AVID advisors Ms. Blakely and Ms. Haley Moore plan a unique month-long seminar for their students. Plano West AVID invites successful Black entrepreneurs and professionals across DFW as guest speakers to come in and give guidance every Friday starting Feb 10th. 

“Our Second Annual Black Expo have professionals from the DFW area coming in and they’re engaging students, helping them with career choices, giving them kind of like a roadmap, or some ideas of what they need to do to get to where they’re going,” said Ms. Blakely. “Not everyone goes straight from high school to college and that’s okay, but letting students see people who are like them succeed (in terms of both but not limited to physical traits or socio-economic backgrounds) is very encouraging.” 

Plano West also offers long-term in-depth African American history education. Both juniors and seniors can take African American Studies as a full-year course to learn about the culture in a fuller context. 

Wilmal Stewart, like many other US History students, expressed how she felt that Black culture is often overlooked in this required History course. The curiosity and eagerness to connect with her culture led her to sign up for African American Studies.

“In US History we would briefly talk about African Americans, mainly in the Harlem Renaissance and slavery. But there are so many good parts of the social-cultural aspect of it I wish people learned,” said Stewart. “After joining African American studies, we talk about the culture, the origins of like African countries, and as for an African kid who was born here [in the US] it altered many perspectives.”

Perhaps the class goes beyond learning another culture; it echoes a sense of pride to young African American students through learning the very grassroots of their identity. 

“Taking the course invoked a sense of pride. I feel like the way I carry myself now is different,” said Stewart. “The African-shaped necklace is now more than a piece of jewelry to me; it shows people that I am African, this is my past and this is what guides me towards the future. I think it’s so important for every African American student to be exposed to that.” 

As Plano West teachers and students decorate the campus with Black achievements, it is critical to extend the meaning of the Month beyond just celebrations and appreciations. 

“One thing about Plano West is that there needs to be more discussion and dialogue happening for students of all different ethnic backgrounds,” said Blakley. “There are just so many pockets of areas where students are just so separate. I get it; we are comfortable sticking with the people that look like us and act like us.” 

The true foundation of celebrating cultural diversity is listening to the narratives and discovering the similarities of different groups of people. Plano West currently has multiple clubs dedicated to this mission of uniting more students, including the co-op club between BSU and APP -United Through Discussions. 

Ms. Blakely challenges students to carry this mission and leave Plano West more united than when they found it. 

“Take it beyond February, take time out of the day and listen to people outside your echo chamber,” said Ms. Blakely, “and you will learn much more beyond the histories of Blacks to the full context of our culture.”