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Why are they hiding your history from you?
They’re putting a hit out on our history.
This piece was originally published as an op-ed in the PEN America Spring 2023 Freedom of Expression Fellowship Anthology (April 2023). It felt freeing to put this on paper. This essay is so important to me and is one of the most meaningful pieces I have ever written; and it’s becoming even more resonant as people-in-power continue placing bans on bodies, books, and being has been topic of “breaking news” everyday.
This Juneteenth, as we celebrate liberation and reflect on our history, I want to give this piece new breath here in my space — capturing it on “Jasmine What’s Happenin’?!”
Happy Juneteenth! ✊🏿
They’re putting a hit out on our history.
It’s so bizarre, that now access to a genuine education is slowly becoming America’s most sought after criminal.
Last month, I ventured back in time. Remembering being a student at Hillcrest High School with big dreams, aspiring to make change in my community and to help empower fellow students, friends, and even educators to do the same. Just three short (well, actually long) years ago, I was taking my last classes as a senior while organizing a “Get Out The Vote” grassroots campaign with fellow classmates as a part of the Get Up and DoSomething(.org) Club I had the honor of initiating at our school; we also held a clothing drive to donate garments to the local youth shelter, colored and assembled activity books for the children’s hospital, and later hosted virtual events like a financial literacy workshop and documentary watch parties. It was one of the first social activism groups of its time at the school. That February, we were in Ms. Lightfoot’s classroom, our beloved director of the yearly program, preparing for the 2nd Annual Black History Month Program – crafting posters, listening to music, cracking jokes, and setting out the schedule of presenters and performers for the festivities. It felt so good to be in that space. To be surrounded by so much joy, so much kindness, and just an overall reverence of one another and the history that has helped shape us – all of us – and the ways we live.
So when my little sister, who is only a few months away from high school, told me that they “weren’t allowed to have Black History” this year, you can imagine my confusion.
On February 8th, 2023, Hillcrest High School students walked out in protest of administrators telling them that any history prior to 1970 could not be addressed in the annual Black History Month Program. During the weeks following the demonstration, Hillcrest BHM Program board members met with local NAACP leaders to find ways to host the retrospective Black History Month program they had intended to hold. On February 22nd, over 1,000 people attended the commemoration, where they were able to address topics of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.
As the news continued to spread across the nation (which is still amazing to me, seeing my alma mater on almost every major news outlet) and I continued to grow extremely proud of the students who organized (shoutout to Jamiyah Brown!), the question rang in my ears:
Why now? Why, after three years of holding the ceremony, would there be even the slightest notion for a cut-off; to commemorate Black History Month starting with the year 1970 and nothing before? The year after Fred Hampton, who ignited the Rainbow Coalition, was assassinated. Two years after Dr. Martin Luther King, who coined the Beloved Community and dreamed of unity, was murdered. Five years after Malcolm X, who relentlessly advocated for the wellbeing and empowerment of Black people, was killed. 1970, the year that Dr. Angela Davis (who is an incredible living legend) was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List. There had to be some intention behind this. Covering up so many years of remarkable revolution, reinvention, and radical growth that led us towards — scratch that — kicked down the doors, finally allowing us to be seen as real people. Trying to erase every part of the annual program that may allude to enslavement, racial discrimination and disparity, and ultimately our progress and evolution as a community. Minimizing centuries of crucial histories to a 50-year segment. 50 years?! That’s absurd! Matter of fact, that’s crazy!
“Listening to songs that we inherit from history, That tell the stories of those who paved the way For us to reach the terrific heights of today — Pushing for the elevation of tomorrow.” – from the poem “BHM” by Jasmine Lewis
Schools across the South are scribbling out pieces of what makes America’s history – inking it into obscurity. Legislators and administrators continue abusing their powerful pens as they issue notices to ban more books, cut-short cultural programs, alter history lessons to exclude the acts of Freedom Fighters and the narratives of many marginalized and underrepresented identities, and even X-ing out Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion collectives at colleges and universities.
They are endangering education as we know it.
It’s eerie; how many people fear the ascendency of knowledge. I guess that’s why it’s 2023, and they are still trying to hide the truth from you. They masquerade it, hiding it under a guise of fallacy and fairytales that everything has always been, and always will be, peachy and peaceful. But there’s no kind of paradise in being silenced.
Truth is, this history – our American history – is complicated. It’s an intricate, and oftentimes even horrific, patterned quilt whose fabric is fading, with stitches that still seem to tear apart and fray at the seams; but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to make it beautiful. It isn’t too late to repair the pieces and change the design.
“We must teach our youth the richness of their worth, The depth of their destiny Starting from birth.” – from the poem “The Future Is Black” by Jasmine Lewis
As peddlers of deception protest our existence, they’re planning to make us invisible. Tearing pages away from the social studies books, menacingly — sneering with deceit at their so-called “reformations” — and passing them over to young students as if it’s the right information, as if it’s the whole story. When, in reality, they concealing truths just so they can remain comfortable. How desperate could you be to feed their minds with these tainted falsities?
In these times, everything feels like it's regressing. There is a serious attack on our right to our humanity. All of our humanity. It’s laced with a vast spread of disinformation, and garnished with erratic legislation for the suppression of our both individual and collective voices. The taste of it is bitter and revolting. There are heinous powers at work, trying to control our access to the most sacred parts of ourselves – our bodies (as experienced with the repeal of Roe v. Wade and the recent proposals and passings of multiple anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ bills), our minds, and our stories (have you heard about the insane changes going on in Florida?). Now, more than ever, we need to remind young people of their power. We must teach them the fullness of history and why things are the way they are. Students deserve a WHOLE-listic education. They should have access to a meaningful and impactful academic experience that will also enrich them culturally and morally; to grow into this world seeing compassion as a virtue, not complacency and clinging on to a sense of “comfort” that disturbs and destroys other human beings. Schooling should prepare them to communicate with each other, work with each other, learn with each other, and live with each other. This is how we survive. If we don’t share the truth with them – how will they walk in the light that they destined for?
Ensuring their confidence In a culture that embodies resilience, Endless Brilliance — They’ll learn how divine Blackness really is.” – from the poem “The Future Is Black” by Jasmine Lewis
In the midst of all of this, I search for advice in some of the divine Black minds that inspire me. I take time to nestle in the words of Toni Morrison, rejoice in the soulful sentiments of Lauryn Hill and Stevie Wonder. One piece in particular that I keep returning to is Kiese Laymon’s riveting call of affirmations to build an Earth of love, learning, and liberation:
“The nation as it is currently constituted has never dealt with a yesterday or tomorrow where we were radically honest, generous and tender with each other. It will, though. It will not be reformed. It will be bent, broken, undone, and rebuilt. The work of bending, breaking, and building the nation we deserve will not start or end with you or me; but that work will necessitate loving black family, however many queer, trans, cis, and gender-nonconforming mamas, daddies, aunties, comrades, nieces, nephews, granddaddies, and grandmamas – learning how to talk, listen, organize, strategize, and fight fight fight for and with black children.”
– Kiese Laymon, Heavy (2018)
The desire of those exploiting their positions is to destroy and conceal the vibrant imaginations of ourselves and our youth; but we must dream up a future where people are able to embrace their power, share their power, and use empathy as a tool for justice.
So, how do we move forward? How do we protect ourselves and each other? We have to continue letting our imagination paint radiant portraits of new worlds that embrace our multiplicity. We have to teach each other and share our stories like our lives depend on it — because they do! We have to listen with the intention of understanding, and we have to care! We can never become numb to the falls in this fight for equity. Injuries and all, we have to win this war – to save ourselves, our young ones, our loved ones, and our futures.
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