Black Lives Matter leader demands history education overhaul

BOROUGHWIDE — The lessons school children learn about the African-American experience should be taught in school all year around, not just during Black History Month, according to the founder of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, who has launched a petition drive to push for passage of a state bill to revamp the education system.

Anthony Beckford’s petition on has garnered nearly 1,500 signatures. “My goal is to push past 10,000,” he told the Home Reporter.

Beckford, who organized Black Lives Matter Brooklyn a few years ago and ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in Flatbush in 2019, said he’s hoping his petition drive will galvanize support for a bill sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Brian Benjamin of Harlem and Democratic Assemblymember Diana Richardson of Crown Heights to create a commission to develop a Black history curriculum in public schools.

The bill, which Benjamin and Richardson introduced in their respective legislative chambers in 2019, is getting renewed attention now that the new legislative session has opened.

Richardson introduced a similar bill in 2018. “The significance and humanity of African American history is often treated with blatant indifference, but through the implementation of this history into the curriculum of our schools, the undeniable contributions women and men of color have made towards society, can help strengthen understanding and awareness,” she told Kings County Politics at the time.

The year 2019 marked the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves being brought to Virginia in 1619.

The time is right for a major change in education, Beckford said.

“The new legislative session in New York State has started and it is very crucial for state legislators in both the Senate and Assembly to make sure that the African American Education Bill, aka the Black History Education Bill, is voted on to pass through the committees and be brought to a vote in the chambers and passed,” Beckford said.

The legislation would create a year-round Black history curriculum for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The New York City public school system has 1.2 million students, 25.5 percent of whom are Black, according to Department of Education statistics.

February is National Black History Month, a time when schools focus attention on the struggles and achievements of Black Americans. But those lessons should be taught throughout the entire school year and not be squeezed into the space of a single month, according to Beckford.

In a 2018 opinion piece in Education Week, Jamilah Pitts, a history teacher, argued against relegating the lessons to just one month out of the year.

“For many students, their exposure to black history is all too brief. Teachers may pause during Black History Month in February to throw in a lesson about Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or the civil rights movement, while other teachers may use a current rap or hip-hop song as their homage to the debt that African-Americans continue to pay to this country. This is not a good approach, as it in many ways perpetuates the system of ‘otherness’ that pervades the experiences of black people,” Pitts wrote.

The Benjamin-Richardson bill would help empower Black youngsters by giving them the chance to learn about the richness of their history “and to teach them that their existence did not start and will not stop with slavery,” Beckford said.

A mandatory Black history curriculum in schools would also help children who aren’t Black, he said. “It could help non-Black children combat the racism and biases taught to them at home. When you hear a child speaking in such hateful language, you don’t blame the child. You know where it’s coming from,” he said.

“Education is a vital tool,” Beckford added.

The petition can be viewed here:

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