The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is, in reality, expressing the highest respect for the law.”
Students can observe similar quotes posted around the school and hear them over the announcements, as February is Black History Month.
“For [many] years, black people had been brought down, but finally, we [have] some sort of equality,” sophomore Elijah Trannon, a member of the Black and Latino Leadership Council, said. “So, now we get to remember all the times we didn’t have that equality and all we had gone through and what we’ve come past as a population.”
Black History Month began as a single week devoted to observing African American history in 1926.
“It originated as a week-long celebration and learning opportunity,” said Dr. Rakeda Leaks, District 203’s director of diversity and inclusion. “Carter G. Woodson is the person who created the concept of Negro History Week. That was in response to the fact that the contributions of Black Americans, in particular, had not been recognized in the learning of history or just in general. This was an opportunity to acknowledge the great contributions [from] the community to this great nation.”
For African Americans specifically, Black History Month also formed to celebrate pride within the black populace.
“It was providing a sense of pride for people who are black or African American, to know that they are part of a community that has done a lot of great things. It eventually became a month long celebration,” Leaks said.
Aside from inspirational quotes spoken by famous Black figures, Central is celebrating Black History Month in many different ways.
“Right now we’re planning an event on Feb. 29,” junior Indya Smith-Johnson, a member of the Black and Latino Leadership Council, said. “It will be a promotion of our club because we need a lot more awareness for the club, because it is a big part of the culture at Naperville Central for students of Latin descent or Black descent. It’ll be a reception with baked goods and dishes [with] many different guest speakers.”
On a district-wide scale, a black history and culture showcase will be held at Naperville North on Sunday Feb. 23 from 2-4 p.m.
“The district is supporting the Success Family Foundation with their annual Black History Showcase,” Leaks said. “The Success Family organization is made up of the family members, loved ones [or] caregivers of students in our district who identify as black/African Americans.”
The seven schools in the area that are affiliated with this organization will cooperate to run the showcase.
“They get together as a collective to put on an event for the entire district,” Leaks said. “This year, the theme will be around African American music, and other forms of the arts.”
But, there are several other more individual ways to celebrate Black History month as well.
“What’s really great about schools like Naperville Central is that it’s so diverse”, Leaks said. “There [are] great opportunities for students to engage and interact with people from different backgrounds, join different organizations, step outside of your comfort zone… and having just that exposure.”
Reading is also a way to better understand African American culture.
“My recommendation is to pick up a book that’s by an African American author, or about a topic that’s about African American culture. That could be leisurely; it doesn’t have to be tied to instruction or schools,” Leaks said. “And don’t stop there. Talk to each other about it. Use it as a talking point. That might encourage your friend or your classmates to pick up a book and read it [as well].”
November’s incident of a student posting a racial advertisement on Craigslist demonstrates a potential need for improvement in racial relations in the district.
“There are a lot of things [for which] we are taking steps to get better,” Leaks said. “I think the district is certainly very self-aware of its gaps. That’s kind of the stage that we’re at right now. Inequities; gaps do in fact exist, and people are experiencing the district very differently depending on different identifiers they might have.”
Despite November’s incident, central and the district community can look forward in numerous ways this Black History Month regarding the progress made in racial tensions here at Naperville Central.
“We are working to change the culture and climate of the district, and principals are looking at that in their specific schools,” Leaks said. “We just implemented it as of this year: [working] with the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center to make sure that we have culturally responsive teaching practices.”
Additionally, the district is looking into curricular strategies to increase inclusion.
“We are expanding and thinking differently about certain courses especially at the high school level,” Leaks said. “We are hearing student voices more. We can make changes based on that information they share.”
And, Black History month not only helps society remember the contributions of black Americans, but contributions from people of all diverse backgrounds, as well as to foster a general air of understanding between different groups.
“I think it’s important for us all to learn more about each other, and for people of certain communities to learn more about themselves, to see themselves reflected,” Leaks said.