Voices in Education

The Boundlessness of Black Joy: Reshaping the Narrative

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The Black experience in America is not a monolith. Traditionally, especially during Black History Month, we hear a silhouetted story of slavery, the civil rights era/Jim Crow, and countless advocates and allies that work tirelessly in the fight for racial equity. We hear this in media, classrooms and everyday conversations. These stories of triumph have become staples in the timeline of Black History. These stories are undoubtedly important, should be taught and play a great role in the voice and history of Black America but these stories often highlight the trauma, struggle and battles that Black Americans endured, and still endure today. 

Rethinking the Narrative of Black History
Shaping a new narrative is important to me; one that can be told in classrooms alongside the history. A narrative that highlights the love, successes, power, and flourishing lives of Black Americans today. One that showcases to our emerging leaders and learners that they have boundless opportunities to make change, create, and exist. A narrative of Black innovation, Black excellence and Black joy because our world does not move without it.

Love, Joy and Excellence are Part of the Black History Experience 
I grew up in a small Southwestern Pennsylvanian town that was majority white. I was one of a handful of Black students and students of color. I remember hearing these traditional stories and what it felt like being the only Black person in the room. The eyes and turning of heads when the teacher would ask what we thought Black people would feel or whomever the main character would feel in their story. I can remember there always being some trauma tied to the story… a death, a protest  or some moral/ethical quarrel always in question. The stories were rarely about love, or joy, excellence or innovation. They were always stories that would evoke emotions in me that didn’t resonate well.

Broadening the Scope will Broaden the View for our Students 
The impact this limited view  had on me throughout my education could have been long standing. If I felt this way, I can only imagine how some of our students have been feeling over the past few years.  If I didn’t have a counter narrative of love and joy taught throughout my later schooling and life, I am not sure where the outcome would have landed me. I didn’t know the boundlessness of blackness until I was able to see through the weeds of the history, trauma and struggle being taught to me in my early years.  If it weren't for my Black high school math teacher or my Black college Advisor, my mind may have still been narrowed to the myopic struggles and pain that have been taught. 

It was by example that I could see Black boundlessness. Through icons in the media, through my family and the teachers in my life, I came to understand that the story of Black America was more than history, it was also the future.  A future in which Black scientists, caretakers, leaders, creators, artists and families make the world go round.

I call upon you, fellow educators, to continue changing the narrative. Especially this month, highlight more Black leaders, innovators, Black joy, successes and light. I also encourage you to integrate Black stories and excellence all year long – not just in one month. Our history is beautiful, powerful and vast and I promise you it is not one solely based on pain.

If you don’t know how to do that I urge you to do your research. The stories and resources are plentiful. If you don’t know where to start, you can check out these PBS LearningMedia Resources to help you get the ball rolling:

Teaching Tip: Try to “flip the classroom!” Instead of you creating discussion prompts, allow your students to generate questions and lead the conversation. Most importantly, remember to honor your students' voices and curiosity with respect for others in mind. Use these videos for deeper, more relevant student led discussions. 

After you check these out, please use the googles to dive deeper - it's free.

Will Tolliver Jr.

Will Tolliver Jr. Early Learning Champion

Will Tolliver Jr. is a Pittsburgh based leader, innovator, and change-maker recognized throughout the education community as an Early Learning Expert. Will holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies with a minor in Anthropology and Community and Justice Studies from Allegheny College. The environment, communities, and our future leaders inspire him to ignite new perspectives around the globe. Will has contributed to various projects and lent his skills to grant writing, project implementation and management, curriculum development, event planning, tutoring and mentoring, and incubating new innovations. He has worked with organizations like PBS, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, and PAEYC to move the mission forward for children. Will’s goal is to share his passion for the environment, education, and social justice with everyone he encounters and to share stories of those who have been denied a voice.

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