Students concerned with SHS’s approach to black history

Black History

Students will celebrate black history at a luncheon tentatively scheduled for March 13. All students are invited to the luncheon, and attending students will be excused from part of their fifth hour classes.

David Bowen, Milwaukee County Board Supervisor for District 10, will speak at the luncheon. Bowen is the youngest board member and one of Milwaukee’s youngest black elected officials.

Olajuwon Cawthon, senior, and Jordan Terry and Kaia Dunlap, juniors, will perform original spoken word poetry at the event, the theme of which is strength and perseverance.

“It’s important to me because I still find out new things about black history and informing the community is a really good thing,” Cawthon said. “Seeing that there really aren’t a lot of African Americans in Shorewood, the more information you get out about black history month, the better.”

“It’s very important to have an identity, and celebrating black history month is part of keeping a strong identity,” Terry said. “When you have that strong sense of identity, it makes it harder for people to dismiss you or crush you.”

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“I think it’s something that should be addressed by everybody,” Dunlap said. “With Milwaukee being one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., this is a way to say we’re different, we accept everybody.”

Terry and Dunlap are disappointed with Shorewood’s approach to celebrating black history, especially compared to the celebrations in which they participated while attending Milwaukee Public Schools.

Terry and Dunlap were able to organize a black history celebration with Lisa Bane, SIS Spanish teacher, in eighth grade, but cannot recall any acknowledgement of black history from their freshman year.

They were happy with last year’s celebration, organized by Nina Wilson, class of ‘14. CAPITA Productions, a Milwaukee non-profit multi-cultural theater company, helped Shorewood students put on three out-of-school performances and an in-school preview. Senator Lena Taylor also spoke at all of the performances.

Nelson Brown, campus supervisor, helped coordinate last year’s and this year’s black history celebrations.

“This year, we just didn’t have the funding to bring back the company that we had last year, so instead of doing that, we brainstormed other things we could do so we could still have some kind of presentation to the school,” Brown said.

However, Terry and Dunlap were upset that Wilson had to “fight for” her right to hold a black history celebration.

“It was a lot of work for her just to get that three day slot, just for us to be able to celebrate black history,” Dunlap said. “This year, it seems like they’re not even giving us the time of day … We’ve been trying for this since the beginning of February.”

“Even the fact that it’s not being held in February, black history month, is really disappointing,” Terry said. “That’s sad and really pathetic.”

Cawthon, Dunlap and Terry are disappointed with the general lack of attention to black history in Shorewood.

“Last year was the first time a black history program was ever done,” Cawthon said.

“I’m disappointed that, as a school, nobody else is concerned about [the lack of black history], but if we were to bring it up, everybody would agree that it’s so bad,” Dunlap said. “In actuality, nobody really cares [enough to take action].”

“The thing about Shorewood schools and [the] Shorewood community is that it likes to pride itself on its diversity, but it doesn’t recognize its diversity,” Terry said. “It makes it hard to come to school every day as a black student.”

Terry, Dunlap and Cawthon want Shorewood to implement a black history program that will take place in February every year, saying that students should not have to request to celebrate black history each year.

“After this year, I want a black history program, not for us to have to sit here and fight for it and beg for it,” Dunlap said. “I want it to be something that’s [publicized each year], even after we graduate.”

“It needs to be an every year thing,” Cawthon said. “That’s why I think it’s more important here in Shorewood than anywhere else I’ve been.”

Furthermore, Terry and Dunlap criticized Shorewood’s lack of black history education.

“We cover the same thing we covered in elementary school,” Dunlap said. “We don’t go into enough depth. Even our race today doesn’t know enough about black history. We know about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X; if you ask about anybody else, 90% of people wouldn’t be able to tell you about anybody else.”

“There are still black people making history today; there are still black people who you can aspire to be like,” Terry said.

“It’s hurtful to see that [black history] is pushed aside and isn’t covered as much because it’s right there and it’s relevant,” Dunlap said. “It’s something that everybody talks about, but nobody really addresses.”

Terry and Dunlap said that Shorewood’s lack of black history furthers their isolation as black students in a predominantly white school.

“It’s very glossed over,” Terry said. “We think of racism as just saying the n-word, but racism isn’t always blatant. It can be very ingrained into your culture, and it can be very subversive. People don’t even [realize when] they’re being racist any more.”

John Jacobson, social studies department chair, disagrees. Jacobson discussed the “resonating theme” of black history throughout both American government and American society, both of which are required for graduation.

“There is a resonating theme throughout [American government] that looks at the constitution not just strictly as the constitution but also as a document that was originally put in place to preserve the institution of slavery,” Jacobson said. “You really can’t study the U.S. Constitution without studying black history.”

“[In] American society, we have an entire unit devoted to the Civil Rights Movement, but you don’t get away from black history at any point, in my opinion – or, you shouldn’t,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said that he will continue to incorporate black history into his curriculum by studying more modern events.

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“Second semester, when we get to the more present day stuff, I expect in May to be talking about things like Ferguson and issues of the day,” Jacobson said. “To me, it’s woven into the course itself because it’s a viable part of American history.”

“We’re works in progress,” said Tabia Nicholas, director of curriculum. “I’m not displeased.”

Nicholas said that, from what she has seen in her observance of classes, students receive an adequate black history education, but there is room for improvement.

“We have a diverse population, and it’s just important to celebrate everybody,” Nicholas said.

Jacobson also pointed to elective social studies classes, many of which are unique to Shorewood in their incorporation and recognition of black history.

“Sociology … The fact that we’re one of only four or five high schools in the entire state of WI that even offers an African studies course,” Jacobson said. “[These courses] overlap heavily with black history.”

Cawthon said that Shorewood’s black history education is adequate, but could improve.

“But I feel like there should be more information out there about black history,” Cawthon said. “We can involve more people. There could be more support, and we can expose more people to black history.”

by Emma Soldon

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