“The curriculum taught me that white people captured me and took away my freedom. Why would I want to learn this?”
That goes through the minds of many black students as they sit in social studies class, says Jamaal Bowman, principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in Co-op City.
Cornerstone takes a different approach. While many schools begin their study of black history with American slavery, Cornerstone reaches back to Ancient Egypt’s African roots. His students, Bowman told a town hall on education in the Bronx last month, learn that they “are descendants of kings and queens, not descendants of slaves. That’s a big difference.”
Parents, students and educators at the town hall are part of a larger conversation about how to make schools welcoming and relevant for all children—not just the white, middle-class ones. Equalizing resources and even integrating schools is not enough, says Matt Gonzales, NY Appleseed’s Diversity Project director. We, also, he says, “have to do deep work so all kids who enter the classroom are uplifted.”
Nelson Luna of the Bronx, now a first-year student at Columbia University, agrees that’s not currently the case. “When you don’t see yourself, you don’t feel connected and you don’t feel passionate. You feel out of place,” says Luna, a co-founder of Teens Take Charge, which organizes students to speak out about integration and other issues.