Celebrating Black History Month in the ClassroomFebruary 8, 2021
By Lara Santos
February is Black History Month, and educators across the country are finding creative ways to incorporate it into their classrooms, both in person and virtual. Here are 10 ways to celebrate Black History Month with students, including resources that center Black voices and feature important Black contributions to U.S. history.
Note: The artwork in this article was created for the ArtEffect Project, a student art competition from the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes that celebrates unsung heroes of history.
There’s a wealth of texts for all ages that highlight the accomplishments and life stories of influential Black scientists, athletes, inventors, writers, political leaders and more. See this recommended reading list from Scholastic for younger learners, or this one from television producer Shonda Rimes’ company Shondaland for teens. And keep an eye out for “Shatter with Words: Langston Hughes” by Milken Educator Margo Sorenson (CA ’91).
Many organizations are hosting Black History Month webinars that rejoice in Black achievements and explore ways to create a more equitable society. Check out Engaging in Antiracism Work: During Black History Month and Beyond (February 10, from Facing History); 2021 Black History Month - Virtual Event (February 23, from Diversity Best Practices); and the 2021 Black History Month Virtual Festival (events all month, from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History).
3. Virtual exhibits
With COVID-19 still ravaging the nation, many museums’ doors are closed to the public—but virtual tours bring exhibits to students. The Mariners’ Museum and Park and Smithsonian both have numerous programs that are free with registration. The National Museum of African American History and Culture also has a wealth of resources about Black history, music, activism and more.
Films that center Black stories deserve a starring role in Black History Month lesson plans, including “13th” and “Selma” from Ava DuVernay and “Hidden Figures” by Theodore Melfi. For more options, see this list of Black History Month movies for students of all ages from Learn In Color.
5. Local businesses
Support Black-owned businesses in your community by having students compile a list to share online. Yelp recently added a new feature that indicates whether a business is Black-owned.
Challenge students to create drawings, paintings, computer-generated illustrations, etc. to illustrate milestones in Black history such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Rosa Parks’ bus protest, Shirley Chisholm’s presidential candidacy, or the election of President Barack Obama. Or turn their attention to lesser-known Black “unsung heroes” and point them toward the ArtEffect Project, a student art competition (with substantial cash prizes!) from the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes.
Invite a local Black poet to join your classroom, or find Black poets online and listen to their work. Poet Amanda Gorman, a 2016 Milken Scholar, captivated the world and inspired millions of students when she performed “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The Poetry Reading Live YouTube channel features many Black poets reading their own work, including Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou and more.
Many genres of music, especially gospel, jazz, blues, rock and roll, rap, electronic and hip hop, were born in Black culture. Podcasts like Shout! Black Gospel Music Moments, Melanated Moments in Classical Music, and The Birth of American Music (from The 1619 Project) offer students insight into the roots of the music they listen to every day. The National Association for Music Education has helpful resources, too.
9. Lesson plans
Scholastic, the National Education Association and the Center for Racial Justice offer Black History Month lesson plans and teaching resources for students of all ages. Teachervision and PBS also have several printables for Black History Month. And we love this activities checklist for Black History Month from Because of Them We Can.
Many Black educators share their wisdom, experience and resources freely on social media, so Black History Month is a good time to expand your circles. Start with this list of Black educators on Instagram from We Are Teachers. And don’t forget Milken Educators like Principal Baruti Kafele (NJ ’09), best-selling author Sharon Draper (OH ’97), STEM educator Princess Francois (NY ’19) and equity champion Rachel Willis (GA ’10).
We hope you found something helpful here. What should we add to this list? Please let us know in the comments below.
Don’t miss any new articles and updates from Milken Educator Awards: