Black History Month: is RV doing enough?

Many students of color critique the school’s efforts in observing Black History Month


RV senior Loveon Sanders-Schmidt sings John Lennon’s “Imagine” as part of RV’s calendar of Black History Month events

Maham Zulfiqar, News Writer

February is Black History Month. At the behest of President Gerald Ford in 1976, Black History Month was established to honor the legacy and history of Black and African-Americans in the United States. Other countries around the world, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have also designated a month to celebrate Black history.

Rancocas Valley has previously participated in celebrating Black History Month, through field trips, lessons in social studies classes and extracurricular activities. However, some Black students claim the school isn’t doing enough, or the bare minimum. 

Junior Jadaa Cruz gives some ideas on how the school can improve its Black History Month celebrations. “The school should post a list of local black businesses for the community to support. I know a handful of black students who developed their own business. The school can hold more speaking engagements that are hosted by black leaders, [as well as] acknowledge students of color.”

Freshman Mya Collins believes RV should take the time this month to reevaluate how it teaches Black history.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the public school system hasn’t done a great job of teaching Black History,” Collins said. “Growing up in the Lumberton Township School District, I was strictly learning about European history. It’s easy to be ignorant when you aren’t being taught the necessary things in school. Not equipping students with that knowledge in the first place is why we have so many discrimination issues. We need that knowledge to form our opinions and truly understand what happened in the past and how it still affects POC today.”

Both Collins and Cruz believe celebrating Black culture should not be restricted to a certain month. “I believe Black History Month should be celebrated all year round at RV.” said Cruz. 

“We can’t just be swept under the rug and only called upon when it’s in the school’s best interest.” Collins stated. 

Mr. Jenkins, advisor of RV’s African American History Club, believes Black history needs to be seen as more than just an extracurricular.

“There is a difference between an after-school club and a class where you earn grades and credits. I believe we should at least have an Intro to African American History elective course. What’s being taught in social studies classes is not enough,” he said.

Cruz agreed. “I would like for our school to not “sugar coat” the history of African-Americans; slavery for example,” she said. “I also believe our school does not teach enough facts about modern-day black figures and the struggles of a black person in society.”

“It is extremely important for non-POC to recognize their ignorance and be active in educating themselves,” said Collins. “Black people are not here to teach you Black History. It can be frustrating answering questions when it is your responsibility to take the liberty to actually do your research and educate yourself. It’s understandable having questions, but you shouldn’t turn to Black people as your first source…we’re not here to ensure that you aren’t offending people.”

Mr. Joseph, a member of the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency Committee, believes that the school is celebrating Black History month appropriately. The English and World Language Supervisor stated that he consulted with Black students to help plan this month’s events.

“I reached out to Mr. Martin and some students from the Afro-365 club, and presented to them a list of events that other teachers and administrators are organizing,” he said. “The students gave me feedback on which events they liked, and we kept them.”

Mr. Joseph also believes the school is doing more this year than ever before. “Because of the pandemic, we are able to provide students with a lot of information, podcasts and videos as well. We are also able to publicize it more, emailing students and encouraging teachers to post about them on their Google Classrooms.”

When celebrating different cultures and their histories, an increasing number of students and staff believe that it is important for schools to consult their students of color to ensure they are honoring it in a respectful and appropriate way. According to the 2018-2019 NJ School Performance Report (the most recent one available to the public), almost a quarter of all RV students identify as African-American, which does not include the population who identify themselves as “two or more races.” The effort to include more diverse voices in planning RV’s events will likely continue.