Black history must be expanded in schools, global in scope

Illustration by Sarah Brady

Ishaan Nandwani, Opinions Editor

John Henrik Clarke. Bayard Rustin. Mamphela Ramphele.

Perhaps you’ve heard their names before; perhaps you haven’t. While they may not be ubiquitously known or actively discussed in Black history, these figures have been instrumental in efforts for equality and justice for Black people on a global scale.

Clarke spearheaded the movement to bring African Studies to American universities; Rustin, a gay Black man, planned the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Ramphele was critical in the fight for equality during the South African anti-apartheid movement.

This Black History Month, it’s important to celebrate not only the legacy of the Black American figures who have been revered throughout history for their instrumental efforts in fighting for civil rights — Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois — but also the unsung heroes who have revolutionized Black history both domestically and worldwide.

Additionally, we must expand African cultural studies at both the primary and professional school levels and consider cross-cultural influences, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the intricate Black narratives that have laid the foundation for our society today.

This semester at VCU, I’m taking “Afro-Latinx Cultures,” a world studies topic course exploring the vivid African influence in Latin America. The course navigates one of many facets of Black history, but in a few short weeks, I’ve learned about critical aspects of Black history that I hadn’t learned before in my 15 years of school.

Insightful discussions about the Underground Railroad’s reach into Mexico and Vicente Guerrero — the first Black president of Mexico, who freed all slaves in Mexico more than 30 years prior to President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation — have greatly expanded my worldview.

I had always considered Lincoln as the primary pioneer in the abolition movement from a legislative perspective; however, I hadn’t considered how far ahead Mexico was in comparison to the U.S. in this respect. It had a Black president almost two centuries before the U.S.; moreover, its anti-slavery work warrants critical discussion and cross-cultural comparison.

Yet our schools don’t teach us that history. While I’m certainly grateful for the advances we’ve made in expanding race-based education throughout my lifetime, including the introduction of African Studies as a primary area of study accessible at colleges and universities, more should be done to educate the general public on these important aspects of Black history that are not talked about enough.

Here at VCU, we can start by requiring an African Studies elective for all students. I suggest interweaving classes with a detailed discussion of Black history in Richmond in order for students to understand the rich and vibrant stories of the Black men and women who fought for their rights years ago on our own soil.

Additionally, classes need to teach Black history outside of the U.S., exploring how these influences have shaped our current perspective and understanding.

In order to cultivate a new generation of students with a global perspective, it’s essential for our education system to delve more deeply into the different facets of Black history.

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