When I was 10 and entering the 5th grade, my mom and sister moved to Jacksonville Florida from Atlanta. Whereas Atlanta felt like it embraced our Blackness as the home of the King Center (even though it’s the home oh the largest White Supremacy Monument and Park in the nation), Jacksonville felt like the confederacy to me. I’d never had run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan, or been called Nigger to my face by white people until I was a little Black child in Jacksonville.
20 years or so later, around 2011/2012, I took a road trip from Atlanta to Jacksonville with my neices, who ranged in ages 7 to 20. I decided to take the kids to Museum of Science and History (MOSH) where I had been an intern in the 8th and 9th grades. We had a great time with the science exhibits; it was when we hit the 3rd floor where the history part of the museum got problematic.
When I was a child, Jacksonville was known for a vibrant Black culture on the Northside, and this is where we went to church as the historic Bethel Baptist. I remember learning the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at this church—which came to national attention and White American attention, in particular, for controversy this year at the Super Bowl. this song was written by James Weldon Johnson, a Jacksonville Native.
And I remember participating the ”African American Brain Brawl,” which was like Jeopardy game competition of American History with a focus on the Black Experience and Contributions. One year I played for my church and the next my 8th grade middle school team. My hunger and passion for history and civil rights was so fervent that I am proud to say I studied and read everything I could get my hands on. And each team I was on WON the Brain Brawl their respective year. 🏆
This, combined with my own family’s stories and history of living through Jim Crow segregation under the suppressive legacy of Enslavement, led me on a lifelong committment to liberation and justice for all.
Florida is a perfect illustration of how systems of oppression come for us all:Gay people with their ban of that word, then Trans folks and kids, and not Black folks. That’s why my work has and will always be about intersectional liberation and justice.
Back at the museum, I was serving as a impromptu docent and historical translator for my nieces. I pre-read the exhibit cards—especially the ones too high for them to read. And then I would explain and contextualize The information.
The first card in the Enslavement section made me gasp out loud. This museum had the nerve to describe Enslaved Africans as “workers” who “immigrated” to the region. And it had a section on the skills they built, how they served as blacksmiths and farmers. And how after a “hard day of laboring” they would come back to their homes and commune together, as depicted in a sanitized drawing
My version: from sunrise to sunset, Enslaved Africans were forced to labor under threats of violence in what could be 10-14 hour days in inhumane conditions. They would return to substandard living quarters and be required to find and prepare their own food as their human traffickers did not provide enough food to sustain them. (Factually accurate)
After 3 exhibits, I had a crowd around me. Then the museum staff came near. I kept giving disclaimers “I am here with my family: I do not work for the museum.” I wasn’t even talking loud—people were just leaning in trying to hear me.
Right now, in July 2023, as part of the National campaign against education and equity, the Floridian Government had revised their middle school curriculum to miseducate students on the realities on Enslavement. Students will learn that Enslavement had benefits. This is part of an effort the government is leading to teach “both sides” and to ensure white students do not feel ”bad” or “guilty” for their racial identity.
See Florida's new campaign: https://people.com/florida-middle-schools-must-teach-slavery-personal-benefit-7563531?utm_campaign=p
The government’s premise: people were enslaved, but they also learned many skills that aided in their personal development.
As a descendent of Enslaved Africans I am deeply offended by this, and that doesn’t fully capture what I feel.
Here is why this education reform is problematic to me, beyond the on-face ethical and immoral problem I have with it:
For the last decade, government agencies, corporations, foundations, schools, and nonprofit organizations have hired me to address the ways that racism is showing up in their organization. And when I’ve met with staff, many of their white and some non-Black staff truly do not understand why we need equity initiatives.
Very nice people I’ve met genuinely believe racial justice work is racist and against white people. Because I’d what they have been taught.
And it’s very hard to rewire and unlearn 30-60 years of core beliefs like that.
And while I have met folks who just don’t like Black people. This isn’t who I’m describing.
I’m describing the people who went to middle schools and high schools that taught them, from official textbooks, that racism isn’t real. It was eliminated after Martin Luther King had his dream. That Slavery existed throughout history. That it wasn’t that bad in the US context. and it was a long time ago, and there are no after effects 200 years later anyway. (These are the assertions I hear. and none are factually accurate. But they are the truth for some people.)
This is why, since the beginning of time, government officials have known the best way to control the people is via miseducation.
Florida is just using an old tactic. They want to stop the intersectional racial justice work that was reactivated in 2020. and so they have deviated a long and short-term strategy.
Short-term: ban books now, curb proests, and certain behaviors they don’t like now.
Long-Term: re-educate the youth — the future adults of tomorrow- to breed out the knowledge of the past.
(Texas did this years ago y’all: it was covered by NYT in 2018!)
My father was born in 1947. He was raised during a time when the federal and state government of North Carolina did not recognize Black People as whole people deserving their full human and civil rights. Voting rights for Blacks were not protected.
He and I often talk about the power of storytelling in preserving history, especially when there are intentional campaigns to hide that history. We talk about how our Jewish community have done such an amazing job of making sure we all #neverforget and how we as Black people must engage in the same because there are concerted efforts to ensure we, as a nation, do forget.
This whole situation has got me considering leading some history tours again. Because we need more witnesses. And more storytelling.