Our guest this month is a recent graduate of our program. We are proud to highlight the work of Josh Perez (’20). Josh’s passion as a teacher stems from, ” the importance of giving students an education they deserve.” Many of his on-campus activities involved working extensively with Brothers At Bard, the Bard Educational Opportunities Program, and the Bard Center for Civic Engagement. Please be sure to take a moment to read Josh’s amazing Academic Research Project, “The Historiography of the Black Panther Party and Black Community Politics and Activism”, a powerful resource for teachers to consider incorporating into their curriculum for next year. Welcome Josh and congratulations! Click here to access Josh’s ARP.
Growing up I never knew my history. I grew up in predominantly black spaces but never knew about my own identity, culture, and community through a historical lens. All of these circumstances I realized, during college and graduate school, were products of institutional racism within the world around me and in the curriculum. I, as well as other Black and Brown kids in my shoes, were told what to learn, what to consider good or bad, legitimate or illegitimate history. We learned our own history through the white gaze and championed the history of whiteness through that same lens. Thinking about it in this sense, I was devastated. I learned about myself through someone else who never truly understood my experiences.
Everything you have seen and interacted with contains a history. Every story and every perspective count as something historical. Most of us have heard the saying “history repeats itself” and we can see many ways how this statement is true. Although we should not comprehend this saying literally, we must understand the habits and perspectives that hold this statement to be true. Right now, we are in an unprecedented time. COVID-19 has devastated our economic world, our social world, and our personal lives. On top of this, we live with another reality that affects the lives of African-Americans, Black Americans, and people of color and that is institutional racism and police brutality. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Tony McDade, and many more are unfortunate examples of continuous inequalities that severely impact all identities of Blackness. This as well as considering how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people also makes matters much worse.
Black men, Black women, Black LGBTQIA+ are directly affected by institutional racism and over-policing. Considering the context of Black history and the history of activism, Black people have always been willing to risk their lives to make their voices known and to represent a change that is bigger than their own lives. Riots and protests are examples of habits and actions that Black people have done to demand change and demonstrate their frustration that nothing has changed. Their voices are shared with the wider context of activism and freedom that is still not acknowledged to this day. At the same time, we have a police state that fails to listen carefully to the voice of the people and instead initiate tactics set to diminish them. The same tactics were used to silence protestors before and during the Civil Rights Movement, through the existence of the Black Panther Party, and many other groups. There are moments like this where we can say that history repeats itself. White supremacy, police brutality, and institutional racism all repeat themselves through the actions of the powerful and the reactions of the powerless. These systems continue because those in power have the luxury to never be held accountable and those who benefit from this system of power will always justify why they do not need to be held accountable in order to protect themselves. They are afraid.
With everything going on, I could not help but think about my Academic Research Project: “The Historiography of the Black Panther Party and Black Community Politics and Activism.” The project focuses on the historiography of the Black Panther Party and the history of political activism and resistance within Black communities. In other words, I explore in depth how historians and authors write about the Black Panther Party and Black activism. How do they gather their sources? What insights do they utilize in their literature and content? What do they include or exclude in their work about the party and why? I chose this topic because to this day the imagery of Black Power, Black liberation, and the Black Panther Party are severely contested. Not many people understand the powerful legacy that these politics had within the communities they served. I wanted to unpack that legacy. Many of these contested understandings involve what protests and demands for equality should look like. We have seen those who justified riots and protests all throughout the country and those who condemned them. The key question to consider is what historical sources do they use to draw their stance? Based on this approach, you can tell how much insight they have about that topic.
I wanted to hear the voices of those who sacrificed so much for their community like the activists we see today. I wanted to learn about the tactics that America used to downplay them and rid them of their existence. On the flip side, the habits of protestors, the power of people who refuse to stay quiet, and do whatever it takes to empower through community is the most powerful takeaway I received from this thesis. Their perspectives are highlighted here. Their lives are the spotlight here. It is important to learn from them and learn from our history. This is a part of Black history and American history.
If we truly want systematic change in our society we need to recognize that education is the most important tool. This history is not taught or even mentioned in the curriculum. The role of White supremacy in the curriculum has dictated how much Black and Brown kids should learn about their own history and what is considered a legitimate means to fight for their own freedom. This is the case with not just black students, but all students who rarely receive a clear picture of Black history. All students in America are fed a fragmented version of Black history. We don’t get this fragmentation with White history. We learn about rebellions and the Boston Tea Party but never about the Black riots and protests that took place in order to vocalize racial change. Hell, we barely even learn about white violence done towards African-Americans or the efforts that African-Americans did to fight against such violence.
My passion for history grew to be as I learned more about my own history. I understood why it mattered so much and I took my time learning it. History and reading allowed me to open my eyes. I felt a new awakening of the world around me and I felt both amazed and severely frustrated. I knew how to carry myself now. History allowed me to check my biases and assumptions about people and critically understand situations both historically and in the present time. I felt more comfortable and secure in who I was and my own identity because I knew the meaning of what it meant to just be present. I grew more and more empathic with identities similar and different from my own. This kind of feeling can only be expressed by learning more about my own history and other histories that we often do not learn about. It involves listening to those whose experiences I do not share because I do not doubt them and I do not doubt their existence. Learning the history of their experiences validates their emotions and their advocacy.
Many of my previous students grappled with the question of why history matters. Why does our history matter? History matters because it will make us more informed. Being more informed allows us to be conscious of the power of our bias, our voice, and our actions. That our presence and identity matter way more than we think it does. That one day your student will be in a powerful position making powerful decisions that impact others. Understandings such as the full comprehension of Black activism and more knowledge of Black history can influence such decisions. It is important to express why history matters but to help Black and Brown students explore the history of themselves. On the flip side, it is important that white students learn about the truth of white supremacy, institutional racism, and the history of other identities. Our Black and Brown students especially deserve to learn about how their own people fought against inequality. They deserve to learn about the power of their people in their ability to stand up to injustice and also create a beautiful and vibrant multifaceted culture that still thrives today. Music, fashion, hair, and dance are a few examples of this vast culture that serves as a form of activism. That, against all odds, we were able to craft many Black cultures that we can embrace and celebrate. All forms of Black activism must be taught in the classroom because it informs our students how to carry themselves when standing up to injustices and inequality even if they are not directly affected by them. We need to instill this understanding of our students.
Teaching Black history corrects misunderstandings and, in a sense, this is also a form of daily activism that must be taught and embraced. From the smallest circumstances in our lives, whether it be historical inventions by Black women and Black men to learning about the Black Panther Party, it gives us a better understanding of people who look like us and those who don’t. It allows us to think twice and have empathy. To understand why we maintained certain racial biases and where those problematic sources came from. If done correctly, with a clear structure, intentionality, and intriguing essential questions, it will awaken students to reality. The truth will bring to life what is reality. The truth though it may be uncomfortable is necessary for all of us.
I am fortunate to join and follow a movement called Educators for Justice whose sole purpose is to advocate and march against the systemic injustices that affect students/teachers within our education system such as but not limited to, the lack of school and community resources and racial conflicts that students/teachers face. Additionally, they have compiled resources that serve as great starting points to learn more about Black history, anti-racist teaching in the classroom, explaining racial inequities in the education system, and bringing wider awareness of racial injustice. They give insight that benefits teachers, educators, and supporters greatly.
Below I have included my Academic Research Project. I encourage taking time to sit with the content and truly understand the viewpoints of the Black activists embedded within the project. This same approach can also take place when hearing the voices of activists today such as Angela Davis. They speak from their experience and we must listen. I also highly recommend reading the six monographs that I incorporate into my thesis. I invite educators, students, and readers to consider the following questions not just within the thesis but also in our current racial climate:
- What are their goals for change in Black and oppressed communities?
- What experiences do they draw to make these claims?
- Are there attempts to discredit the experiences or voices of the marginalized? Why and how?
- For those who discredit Black voices, what gaps are missing in their understanding? How can we correct these misunderstandings?
Educators especially need to go out of their way to learn more about Black history and Black activism. We need to check our biases and assumptions because our students emulate our behaviors. Educators hold a child’s future in their hands and must be accountable for learning about the child’s identity, history, and culture. It is work we must do for the sake of those we serve. Justice is needed in the lives of Black people both personally and systematically. We still need justice for Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and so many others. We need to hold police officers and systematic racial inequalities accountable for their actions even within our education system. We need justice for our Black and Brown students. Justice for our Black and Brown teachers. Justice for Black women. Justice for Black men. Justice for Black LGBTQIA+. Justice for All Black Lives because All Black Lives Matter.