Black History Month is coming to a close, but it is not too late to squeeze in a lesson or two to celebrate and recognize the significance of this time.
Growing up, I was taught the following lies about America: that it is a Christian nation, that it was founded on the idea of freedom for all people, and that it was a place where its citizens could realize their wildest dreams.
In reality, America is a place that was founded on the idea of rights and privileges for some (those lucky enough to be white, male, and land-owning); it was founded by flawed, imperfect individuals who professed to be Christians and then turned around and did the most un-Christian things; and that it is a place where some people are given the opportunity to change and improve their lives.
This does not mean I hate America, or that I regret being born here. I am well aware of the many rights and privileges I live with today that I could not find in many other places. I am able to do things that women all over the world still can’t do: hold a job of my choice, vote, and own a house. But the reality is that none of those things were rights given to me by the Declaration of Independence.
Because I love this country that I live in, I want to see it reach its full potential. I want to see it be the America that it promises to be. It is from that place of hope that I taught my seventh-grade students this week. We read two poems, written 100 years apart, that face America’s ugly past dead-on and promises that its future will be better. The first is “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes, known as the “poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance.” The second is “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in American history who made history in January by performing at the presidential inauguration and again in February by performing before the Super Bowl.
These two poets show us America as it has been, but they do not leave us to simply regret the many ways this country has failed its people. Instead, they point us to a brighter future, an America that, according to Hughes, “the land that never has been yet –/And yet must be — the land where every man is free.” Gorman tells us that we are the vehicles by which we will experience that change, for “there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.”