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It's AMERICAN History & Heritage!
Copyright 2002 Gerri Gribi ||| Email ||| Updated 08/07/15
Teacher Toolkit Grades K-12
Lesley University, Cambridge MA
MA - Interdisciplinary Studies/African American Studies Concentration
Thomas More College, Ft. Mitchell, KY
B.A. Magna Cum Laude, History // Teaching Certification, Grades 7-12
Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society
Why I created this site (You can also view my complete resume and credentials)
I graduated from Thomas More College with a B.A. in history and teaching certification for grades 7-12 in 1976. After graduation I worked in the Education Department of the Cincinnati Historical Society where I developed supplementary materials for teaching local history, and made presentations in schools.
Black history was just beginning to find its way into the curriculum back then...barely. I had the good fortune to meet Dr. John Hope Franklin in 1977 when he was doing research at the CHS, though (I'm embarrassed to admit) I had somehow managed to spend four years in undergraduate history courses without ever having heard of him or FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM. He encouraged me to make sure black people were represented in my school presentations; I quickly discovered Cincinnati had a strong African American heritage, which sparked my interest in the subject.
My first two loves have always been history and music, particularly women's history, and since the early 1980's I've been self-employed presenting concerts, keynotes and workshops celebrating women's cultural heritage for schools, colleges, performing arts centers and conferences across North America. (I've recorded several albums, and you can read more about those and my musical work at my homepage.)
I first ventured into cyberspace back in 1993, and was immediately hooked on this fantastic new vehicle for communication and education. By 1995 I was teaching others how to search for information on the 'net and in 1997 I built my first web site. In addition to serving as founder and editor of the Women's Studies Category at the Netscape Open Directory Project, I've shared my expertise in workshops and trainings, primarily for educators and administrators in all curricular areas. (I create an online toolkit to support each workshop.)
I've continued to travel , perform and lecture on topics in women's studies, mixing in cyberspace at every opportunity. I'd always tried to be culturally inclusive in my programs, but somewhere around Mid-Life Crisis Time I decided I wanted to study black women's history and culture in earnest, primarily to enhance my performances and presentations. So, in 2000 I became a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program of Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, with a major in African American Studies.
Which brings us to Beyond Black History Month.
No black person has yet asked me "Why are YOU (ie. white girl) studying African American history?" Lots of white people have asked. It never occurred to me that I was doing something unusual. African American history is American history. For example, slavery wasn't just a "cause of the Civil War." It was an experience shared by and effecting millions of Americans of all races.
Teaching American studies without including African American studies is like teaching math without including the number 2...things just don't add up.
Yet the study of black America is still primarily relegated to Black History Month, and textbooks basically use an additive approach rather than creating a more inclusive narrative that reflects how culturally diverse this nation has always been. In my studies, I noticed that black history had a way of getting found and lost and found (and lost) again. I feel the best way to change the teaching of American studies is to make resources available for exploring African American studies and culture in depth, and to incorporate it into every curricular area where it belongs.
The internet allows these resources to be disseminated quickly and widely, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers. However, having presented internet workshops for educators of all levels, I understand the obstacles teachers face in accessing and using online resources. Many lack the skills, time, or computer access to search for quality resources. Some don't know how to evaluate what they find. And still others don't know what they're looking for in the first place.
While there were already African American Studies resources available online for classroom teachers, most focused on a specific topic of interest, or were just broad, random collections of links.
So for my thesis, I decided to create an online curriculum guide which did the legwork for classroom teachers, organizing and providing recommendations for some of the best resources available both on and offline, but also providing ideas for ways to infuse African American Studies into the curriculum. I call it Beyond Black History Month: The African American Studies Toolkit. I'm fortunate to have had as my advisor Katherine Holmes, Assistant Director and Head of Reference, Ludcke Library at Lesley University.
It quickly became apparant that my vision exceeded the requirements of a master's thesis, so I consider the current version to be a prototype for what could be. I'm currently seeking grant or other funding to complete what I've begun.
2004 Update: I'm pleased to announce this site received the 2004 Johnson Subvention Award from the Society for American Music to further development of the MUSIC section.
2006 Update: There is a lot of discussion lately about the usefulness of Black History Month. Some consider it insulting that it's the shortest month, and suspect a plot to demean black history. Others say it's no longer necessary, while still others say we should be teaching black history all year round.
Carter G. Woodson, (1875-1950) noted Black scholar and historian and son of former slaves, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, which was later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) .He initiated Black History Week, February 12, 1926. For many years the 2nd week of February (chosen so as to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln) was celebrated by black people in the United States. In 1976, as part of the nation's Bicentennial, it was expanded and became established as Black History Month. The fact that nobody seems to know the origin of Black History Month itself is a sign of how much we need it!
I believe until the teaching of American history becomes more inclusive, we will always need a special commemorative month. Otherwise, black history won't get taught at all. And besides, setting a month aside doesn't imply black history is unimportant the rest of the year. We set aside specific days to honor veterans (November 11), to celebrate our freedom (July 4), etc. But that doesn't imply we're supposed to forget about it the rest of the year.