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Sharing black history with kids requires thoughtful approach

In 1926, an African-American historian named Carter G. Woodson created a week to celebrate black people as participants in the development of American History.

In fact, Woodson declared, "It was not so much Negro History Week as it is a History Week. We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history."

As parents of two African-American boys, this is exactly the message we have tried to impart to our sons. Nevertheless, it is difficult to share our mutual history as Americans to young children because schools often regulate the contributions of people of color to entertainers.

Growing up, I learned more black history from a Miller Brewing Co. calendar than I did in school.

The difficulties my wife and I face as African-American parents is no different from parents of any race when it comes to teaching American history in general, and especially when dealing with African-Americans as a part of that history. As parents, we pick and choose age-appropriate stories about the development of America without much of a problem.

However, as African-American parents, we often found stories limited to slavery and segregation. We did not want to begin teaching our children this reality until we felt they were old enough to process the history properly.

Luckily, I grew up in a home surrounded by books and I teach history. Therefore, I know a number of African-American visual artists, writers, musicians, inventors, and professionals in a variety of fields.

Exposing our young children to these successful individuals first, before highlighting the challenges they faced because of their race, empowers our children. And this can be an empowering reality for all children.

Every parent needs to assess when their child is able to process the broader story of America. For example, one of my son's best friends saw 42, the Jackie Robinson movie. We let our oldest son, who was 11 at the time, see the film but opted to keep his 8-year-old brother at home.

The movie prompted my older son to ask questions about his grandparents, and he came away with a new-found respect for their achievements.

However, don't let multimedia and pop culture supplant the lessons we can gain from books. For example, 42 failed to depict Robinson's civil rights activism.

Too many minorities endured violence and hardship, but as the African-American poet Langston Hughes noted, "I, too, sing America."

And, thankfully, Black History Month reminds us all of this fact.

Keith Berry is a married father of two who lives in the Westchase area.

Sharing black history with kids requires thoughtful approach 02/12/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 2:44pm]
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