An Oklahoma activist has opened a private school to teach Black history after the state passed a law that aims to cover America’s troubling past. The 2021 law, adopted by Republican legislators, restricted the teaching of race and gender in the state’s public schools.
As many teachers feared the possibility of losing their jobs if they violate the law, Kristi Williams started a grassroots initiative she calls Black History Saturdays, NPR reported.
Williams, who has received funding from the National Geographic Society to launch the initiative, is leading the Black history sessions once a month in Tulsa. The private school is free for children and adults.
Dewayne Dickens, a Tulsa Community College professor, is teaching the high school students in the Black History Saturdays program.
“We’re reclaiming this,” Dickens told NPR. “We can teach our children, we can teach ourselves, and we can do it better.”
According to H.B. 1175, teachers are prohibited from promoting several “discriminatory principles.” Those principles, according to the law, include the idea that people from a certain race are inherently racist or sexist. The law states that teachers may not promote the idea that some people have responsibility to fix the errors of their ancestors. Additionally, H.B. 1175 proponents say educators must be prohibited from teaching lessons that make people of certain races or genders guilty.
Educators who are speaking out against the law say they never had intentions of teaching the outlined principles. The ambiguous guidelines have left some educators confused.
“The vagueness in the law means that teachers never know what trap they’re going to fall into,” Williams told NPR.
Angela Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at a Tulsa, is another educator who has accepted an offer to teach at Williams’ Saturday school.
“It gave me the opportunity to do what I love,” Mitchell told NPR. “To teach kids not only the safe information they can get at a public school, but also to dive deep and teach history that even I was never taught.”
MItchell has been teaching first-grade students about the Greenwood District, the thriving Black business district in Tulsa which was burned down by a white mob during the 1921 Tulsa Race massacre. Areyell Scott, another educator at Black History Saturdays, was teaching one kindergarten student last month. Scott taught her student about Ruby Bridges, the Black first-grade student who faced an angry white mob in 1960 as she was on her way to desegregate an elementary school in New Orleans.
“She was able to change the trajectory of what all little colored children could be exposed to, and that’s what we want to show,” Scott told NPR.
Williams is proud of the teachers who have decided to teach at her school. She also understands that other teachers are fearful of accepting her offer because could face harassment from critics.
“I totally understand that,” Williams said. “But the teachers who said yes, they’re on the front lines. And we’re here creating our narrative.”