Guest Blogger Davida Lindsay-Harewood:
It is impossible to teach the true history of the US without including Africans and African Americans. There were Africans on Columbus’ journey of exploration of the Americas. Africans were present in the early settlements in Jamestown and other colonies. Every war this county has fought included people of African descent from the War of Independence and the Battle of 1812 to the Civil and Spanish American Wars right through to the World Wars, Viet Nam conflict and Iraq War. Many inventions from the stop light to the gas mask were created by people of African descent. Why are so many Americans ignorant of this information?
The telling and teaching of history is controlled by those in power for several purposes such as to create symbols. Those symbols can be to encourage growth and power or to instill inferiority or oppression. Who and what children learn of in history or their story is important.
The Amistad Commission was established to ensure the teaching of the African and African American experience is taught in New Jersey schools. Established by the 2002 legislative act, the Amistad Commission was charged with ensuring New Jersey public school teachers have the resources they need to help students learn about the history—the events, the contributions, and the impact—of Africans and African Americans in our society. The Commission takes its name from La Amistad; a slave ship who’s cargo of enslaved Africans overthrew the crew and regained their freedom in 1839.
As part of the New Jersey Department of Education, The Amistad Commission maintains websites for teachers that offer resources including teaching materials, guides, and tips for creating inclusive classroom curricula. In addition, an annual summer workshop is held for educators. Some of the best resources have been the Amistad commissioners themselves, several of whom are or have been from the Montclair area. They’ve made themselves available to teachers and students to inspire and communicate about their life experiences. Former state assemblyman William Payne, a sponsor of the Amistad legislation, spoke eloquently about his childhood growing up in northern New Jersey; his exposure to African Americans in history only included the children’s book Little Black Sambo and slavery. There is so much more to the African and African American experience than the negative stereotypes in the 1899 book and the horrors and exploitation of slavery.
The history of our nation is an inclusive story. Our county’s greatness and struggles include many voices. The Amistad Commission has taken on the charge to include the contributions of Africans and African Americas in the teaching of our inclusive history. From their work, each of us can begin to examine what we have learned and are being taught and ask “Whose story is missing?”
About Davida Lindsay-Harewood: Davida Lindsay-Harewood is currently employed by the Montclair Board of Education as the district social studies supervisor. In this role she works with teachers to ensure all students receive an enriching social studies education that meets state mandates and brings history alive while making connections from the past to the present. Currently, Davida is pursuing an executive doctoral degree in K-12 School Administration from Seton Hall University.
1221 Bowers Street #2225
Birmingham, Michigan 48012-2225