Resources for Leaders

Working On Knowledge Equally (WOKE): Why Black History Matters! 

A leader can use their own background and knowledge to affect the future of the children they teach.

As we enter February, the designated month for the appreciation of Black history, a critical question may arise from those who are not Black. That question might be “why does Black history matter?” This looms large given Florida’s recent rejection of a proposed College Board Advanced Placement course on African-American Studies. Some of the reasons provided were that the course included topics such as the movement for Black lives, Black feminism, and reparations, as well the inclusion of certain Black authors whose writings touch on critical race theory.

I respond as someone who has been fortunate enough to have received the benefit of a deep immersion into Black/African American History as a student at Lincoln University, the first degree-granting historically Black college and university. For example, my deep appreciation for the life and times of Frederick Douglass was fueled by a White professor by the name of Phillip Foner who was the resident expert on Douglass at the time. It was Professor James Farmer, Director of the Congress of Racial Equality and a civil rights activist with Dr. Martin Luther King, who introduced me to the history of the civil rights movement.

As a Black History major at Lincoln University, surrounded by a wealth of information about the immense and significant contributions made by Black Americans, I gained a true appreciation of them. This experience of authentic learning helped to affirm and shape my identity. As I began to know my history, I began to know my power. I was also able to read a treasure trove of books and writings about the achievements of Black people that provide the reader with well-researched facts that were not found within the traditional U.S History texts used in public schools K-12.

If it were not for Lincoln University and professors dedicated to teaching a comprehensive history, I would not have fully appreciated the contributions, inventions, and acts of courage performed by Black Americans.

Following graduation I began teaching history, transferring what my professors had given me to my students. I continued my study of Black/African American history and carried that study into the teaching of my classes. I taught them about the African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay and about the wealthiest man who had ever lived, Mansa Musa. And there were so many other figures, not typically known or taught about in school, such as Madame C.J Walker, the first Black self-made millionaire; John Taylor, the first African American athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in 1908; Phillip B. Downing who invented the first protective mailbox; Garret Morgan, inventor of the gas mask as well as the three-light traffic signal; Mary Van Britan Brown, inventor of the first home security system; and Alexander Miles who patented the automatic elevator doors that we use today. These names are just the tip of the enormous iceberg of inventors, creators, and game changers who happen to be Black and have helped this nation achieve recognition and success worldwide.

And lastly, there were many Black men and women who challenged every sort of inequity or bias, injustice, and racial discrimination and led the way to freedom. Thurgood Marshall, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Denmark Vesey, Fannie Lou Hamer, Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth, John Lewis, and Harriet Tubman, to name just a few, should also be studied. When we share and teach Black history as it should be taught to every student regardless of race, color, or creed, then we are WOKE (Working On Knowledge Equally).