Black History Month at OHS

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Yemi Tchala, a leader of the Students of Color Association.

Andrea Rachita, Journalist

February is Black History Month, and students and staff at OHS are gearing up to pay homage to the African Americans upon whose back the nation was built as well as those who are a part of our community today.

Skyler Noble, a Senior at OHS, feels that the school could do a better job of being more inclusive towards students of color. “It’s hard being a person of color at a majority white school. Often, white people try to speak on issues that they don’t really understand, and students of color need more of a platform to voice their opinions on,” they say. There are some specific courses of action the school could take. For example, “the school could hire more indigenous teachers and other teachers of color. As far as I know, there are only two or three in the school.” Throughout high school, Skyler has also begun to notice more small actions of racism. “For example, if I raise my hand in class, and so does a white student next to me, the white student is usually called on first. Also, hallway talk. No one has an excuse to use the n-word. It’s not cool, but actually really offensive to a lot of people.” This is part of why they think Black History Month is so important. “It’s important to learn about different cultures and how history evolves.”

Valerie Davis, a History Teacher at OHS, says that “a common criticism is that schools feel like they check the box of teaching black history during [Black History Month] and then say that is enough.” However, if anything, recent events throughout the Olympia School District say otherwise. “I mean, the Olympia School District recently made news regarding the consistent mistreatment of people of color…It’s clear that one month a year of black history is not enough.” However, much of black history is not mentioned in textbooks. For example, one heinous incident of racism in American history that often goes untaught is the story of the demise of Black Wall Street. “What happened is that an African American teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma likely stepped on the foot of a white woman in an elevator. He was implicated in assault and then taken to the jailhouse,” Davis explains. “Some African American war veterans went to the jailhouse to protect this kid and they refused to stand down.” As a result, the white population of Tulsa firebombed the city using World War I aircraft. “They are just now finding the bodies from the mass graves built after the Tulsa Massacre,” Davis says. “People never learned the history of race and racism in the United States…and that leads to people making some pretty ignorant claims.”

Yemi Tchala, a member of Olympia High School’s Students of Color Association, also feels that the OHS community as a whole could benefit from learning more about Black History. “The school is a predominantly white institution, so what can I expect, but I feel like they don’t celebrate black history because there’s no black history here but racism,” she says. And only teaching black history during February will not cut it. “I honestly don’t think that anybody’s going to listen to Black History Month assemblies or whatnot.” To really make a change, Tchala says that OHS needs to be implementing more black history into the curriculum. “We only learn about history through a westernized perspective, and I feel it’s beneficial to show other people that although racism has decreased a lot, there’s still the connotation that black people haven’t done anything and they’re lazy and they’re not smart. Learning about things that black people have done and also the suffering they’ve gone through paints the perspective that everyone is human, rather than black people are one way and white people are another.” In order to achieve that goal, she says, OHS should encourage teachers to show students that black people have made meaningful contributions to society, such as by being inventors, or even contributions to the local community. “Recently, I learned that there were a lot of black business owners in Olympia that are buried in the cemetery down the road that were here a long time ago, and were almost like city founders.”

Though it will be no easy feat, with proper, year-long education regarding the black community in Olympia and the rest of the country, students and staff alike hope that the school’s environment will become more accepting of people of color.