Bringing black joy to the classroom

Feb 27, 2023

Student teacher disrupts the typical Black History Month narrative.

This special guest column appears courtesy of Jayna Brown, an Integrated Elementary and Special Education student at UMD. Brown is currently student teaching in the third grade at Myers-Wilkins Elementary and wanted to share her perspective as well as a recent Black History Month classroom activity.

Too often in elementary schools, Black History Month begins with stories of Black trauma. Conversations about discrimination and rising up against injustice are important, but that is not our whole story. Where is the joy? Why can’t Black people be celebrated without pain and strife? 

Classroom with elementary students and adult gathered around table
Pez Davila, working with students

Rosa Parks, MLK, and Harriet Tubman should not be the only names kids know. This February, my goal as a student teacher at Myers-Wilkins Elementary was to upend the narrative about Black History Month in my classroom. I chose to kick off the month with a celebration of Black excellence rather than trauma. We’re learning about the significance of hair in Black culture, the power of dance, and the history and importance of music in Black culture. 

Historically, music and the arts have been integral parts of Black culture—a means of escapism, self-expression, and a way to foster community. As a student teacher, I wanted to foster community in my own classroom, so I called on community member Pez Davila to help me with a powerful project. Pez is a musician and also serves as operations director for Family Freedom Center/Neighborhood Youth Services. I enlisted him to come in to produce a song with the kids. With Pez’s help, the students wrote lyrics about what a classroom community means to them and layered them on top of a rhythmic, energetic beat. 

While overcoming oppression in the face of injustice is an important conversation, it should not be the only conversation. During Black History Month—and all year round—we need to encourage conversations and celebrations around the vibrance and creativity embedded in Black culture.

The featured image at top includes author, Jayna Brown, and Pez Davila with students from Myers-Wilkins.