Filed Under:  Education

HistoryMakers bring Black role models to schools

29th September 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – On September 25, more than 400 Black role models visited students at schools in 67 cities across 32 states as part of The HistoryMakers Back to School Day. The annual day of service brought Black leaders from as many industries as possible to speak with middle and high school students about their lives and career paths.

This year’s Back to School Day HistoryMakers included Tom Burrell, founder of the largest Black-owned marketing firm in the country, actor Lou Gossett Jr., Ernest Green of Little Rock Nine fame, author and chair of the Foundation for the National Archives, A’lelia Bundles, and many more.

“What we’re really wanting to do is…to start bringing this into schools. Kids are still struggling with role models, who to look up to, finding a path,” said Julieanne Richardson, founder and executive director of The HistoryMakers. “The program is way more impactful than I could have imagined, because what I didn’t understand at the time was that the schools could not reach out and touch the people that we were bringing in on their own. And they’re looking for things to motivate their students.”

The nationwide effort was chaired by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and, according to The HistoryMarkers, put the group in direct contact with over 25,000 students in 200 schools across the nation, to inspire them with their life’s stories and to encourage youth to strive for excellence.

The HistoryMakers bills itself as the largest African-American video oral history collection. For the first time, thanks to a $1.6 million grant, its digital archive will be donated to any Chicago public school that wants access, plus teacher training to make the most of the resource. The archive will be complete in 2017; but it is currently available and includes hundreds of interviews, adding up to more than 2,000 hours of firsthand accounts from people such as President Barack Obama, Julian Bond, and Diahann Carroll. Access to the archive usually requires a $30-per-month membership with The HistoryMakers.

“Our digital archive is just groundbreaking, because at the click of fingertips, we’ll be able to put all this information in an online resource that the world has yet to see,” said Richardson. “We really want our digital archives in every school in the United States because there’s so little known about the Black experience. We are in a time now where we still hear ‘Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer,’ as if no other Black people existed.”

According to Richardson, the schools they work with that already use the database find it to be a great supplement to their classrooms.

“The digital archive is good for language arts, social studies, STEM – we have 211 of the nation’s top scientists on the digital archive,” she said. “One of the schools was using it to teach vocabulary in context. At another school, a drama teacher was using it to teach accents.”

In New Orleans, in addition to hearing from award-winning author and music therapist Freddi Evans, who wrote A Bus of Our Own, a book which recounts the triumph of a small African-American community in Madison, MS. in procuring and operating a bus to provide transportation to and from school for their children (due to the segregation at the time), students had the opportunity to hear from Judge Edwin A. Lombard.

Lombard, who sits on The HistoryMakers’ National Advisory Board and serves as a joint regional coordinator, along with local attorney Tim Francis, for the organization’s New Orleans’ office, believe that while the digital archives are important, it’s also important to connect young students with African-American leaders in their own communities to whom they can relate while those leaders are still living.

“By bringing these living leaders into today’s educational system, we are raising awareness about the achievements of the accomplished African Americans in local communities and providing important role models for today’s youth,” Lombard said.

Now in its 16th year, The HistoryMakers conducts research on accomplished Black professionals and records interviews for posterity. This is the sixth year for The HistoryMakers Back to School Day. The visits often extend beyond this annual event, and relationships develop between The HistoryMakers and the schools they visit.

“We all need role models, we all need to see people who stood for something. I’m an integration and affirmative action child, and I benefited from that,” she said. “But for me to be seeing young people who are doing worse than I could’ve ever imagined – there’s something terribly wrong. I really believe that the Black community needs to get back involved with itself in this way, for our kids,” says Richardson.

This article originally published in the September 28, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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