By: Taylor Hatheway
Students at Jenks may be aware that it’s currently Black History Month but they might not know how the school is celebrating it. If they have walked through Building 5, they may have seen the large banners hanging by the main office that highlight prominent people from the Harlem Renaissance or heard the morning shout outs recognize achievements of African-Americans.
Black History Month, also called African American History Month, began in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History declared the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”. Woodson selected this week because it overlapped with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). Emphasis was put on teaching the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools. Negro History Week started small with the Departments of Education in North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia and the city school administrations in Baltimore and Washington D.C. cooperating. The holiday grew with popularity in the following decades with mayors in cities across the United States recognizing it as a holiday.
Black History Month was first proposed by the Black United Students and educators at Kent State University in February of 1969 with the first celebration of Black History Month taking place at the university from January 2 to February 28, 1970. By 1976, the holiday was being celebrated in educational institutions across the country. President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the celebration of the United State Bicentennial.
The banners outside of the Building 5 office were put up by Shelley Olds, a 3D Portfolio, painting, and ceramics teacher, who wrote a grant in order to obtain them. While this is her first year at Jenks, Olds used banners just like the ones in Building 5 to recognize different cultures and artists while she was teaching at Broken Arrow.
“I knew that Black History Month was coming up and I wanted it to be a collaboration piece with the history teachers in the building and the language arts teachers,” says Olds, explaining why she decided to focus on the Harlem Renaissance.
Olds speaks passionately about what she wants students to take away from reading the information on the banners, hoping that they will be inspired by and appreciative of how we’ve come to appreciate everybody.
“It builds an awareness and an appreciation for different people and different cultures and people realize that African-American history is really rich and amazing,” says Olds, about why it’s important to recognize Black History Month.
Olds is just one person trying to make an impact on Jenks’ students but what is the school as a whole doing to celebrate Black History Month? The Trojan Torch talked to David Beiler, the site principal at Jenks High School.
Beiler says that the social studies classes focus on accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans throughout the whole year, not just during February. However, Jenks does want to include the whole school in recognizing Black History Month and does so by including facts and information about African-American achievements in the morning shout outs. However, a Black History month assembly is not a part of the celebration because of how much coordination it would take.
“It takes a lot in the schedule for assemblies of any kind,” says Beiler, so school-wide assemblies are limited to pep assemblies and the Veteran’s Day assembly, which is required by state law.
“We have had a couple of centuries of not everyone being recognized and appreciated the way they should be… and I think it’s important for us to have this time to reflect and remember how far we’ve come but how important it is to continue everyone having equal rights,” says Beiler, when asked about the importance of celebrating Black History Month.