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The First Black History Month Presentation at My High School Happened in 2018

Growing up, I was not surrounded by people that looked like me. More often than not, I was the only Black girl in a lot of settings. This meant school, the grocery store, dances and so much more. For the longest time, I thought nothing of it. To be very honest, I didn’t think about it at all until I got to high school. I went to a small private school for my entire life, so I essentially grew up with my classmates. My high school had 250 people total, so it felt very comfortable and we all went along with our days and nothing ever changed; that is until my senior year, I noticed something that pained me. We had never really acknowledged Black History Month. 

Being hyper-aware of that fact entering my senior year, I was stuck being one of the only Black kids in a predominantly white school feeling the presence of Black History Month approaching. Though it is not the duty of Black people to educate non-Black people, I felt as though something had to be done. I gathered with five other Black kids in my grade and took a proposal to the Dean of Students. We had never had an assembly on Black History—we barely touched on it during our classes.

Overhead view of Students In Class
Photo by Mikael Kristenson from Unsplash

For us to go all in and present to our entire school was nerve-wracking because it had never been done before. Our plan was to focus on the accomplishments of Black people and not just the basic history. We planned out exactly who was going to say what, how we would go about it and most importantly, how to make this something people would sit and listen to.  The problem we continued to face was the one of how are people going to feel walking away from this. It was our last chance before we graduated to make a difference in the way that our school handled Black History Month.

When it came time to present, me and my five Black peers took the stage in front of our predominantly white classmates and gave it our all. Everyone sat and listened as we discussed the Black influence in the media, the music industry, sports industry, culture and all of the other things that Black people have contributed to in the United States. Afterward, they took our picture for the school paper and we went on our way, feeling accomplished. Our teachers praised us. We even went on to present at the middle school and the lower school. It was a feeling I’ll never forget.

Looking back on it now, I am angry. Reflecting on it these past few years has raised several questions in my mind. Why did it take us going to the administration and putting it together ourselves for Black History Month to be acknowledged? Why, to this day, has the curriculum at the school not changed to facilitate positive conversations about race? It’s disappointing that there are so many resources readily available to everyone now and yet, there is little work being done to understand the Black experience. There is so much more to learn and we need to be better.

Grace Barratt is an outdoor enthusiast and has a passion for everything creative. She is double majoring in Creative and Strategic Advertising at VCU. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing and camping.
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