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Black History Month: “We will not let you fail”

I still hear the voice of my 8th grade teacher in my ear every time I enter my school and turn the key in my classroom door.

“You will not fail, we will not let you fail.”

That voice, that phrase has remained with me throughout the years.

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the heroes whose names we recognize in the history books and we hear about in the media. My heroes include the ones I saw daily, those that looked after me as I made my way through the halls and classes of our school. These heroes are often overlooked and even today taken for granted.

Black educators have always been seen as community anomalies. Pre-segregation black teachers were looked as the leaders and pillars of the black community, second only to church leaders in importance to the future and deliverance of the black community and especially the children. Educated blacks dared to educate the students many said were unteachable.

The period of integration depicted black educators as caught between two worlds: a white world of rules and assimilation and a black world of revolution and change. Black educators since have had to balance internal struggle with external harmony.

Many education leaders and reformists were people of color, exhorting that the only way out a cycle of poverty and violence was through education and life-long learning.

The 80s brought the clarion call of education reform and equity over equality, and a realization that our integrated schools were not so integrated if you looked at income and social status. Many education leaders and reformists were people of color, exhorting that the only way out of a cycle of poverty and violence was through education and life-long learning.

Our modern education heroes, much like political ones, have much to learn from the heroes of our past. The messages we hear now can get caught up in the cacophony of practices, policies, programs, and politics of education. Past heroes were focused on making society better and more equitable for all people. There was less emphasis on being right and more emphasis on doing the right thing. There were more voices ringing out — “We will not let you fail.”

Schools and teachers use Black History Month as a vehicle to promote the successes and contributions of our black pioneers and heroes. Since black curriculum is not taught as a separate study until college (unless you are at a very progressive school), the focus and teaching of the black experience in this country and around the world is an extremely valuable one. It is important to recognize the accomplishments of all of the people in our country. Black History Month provides a bit of equity for the black community by providing a small degree of awareness of the vast legacy of black contributions to those who might not otherwise bother to appreciate it.

Black History Month provides a bit of equity for the black community by providing a small degree of awareness of the vast legacy of black contributions to those who might not otherwise bother to appreciate it.

Being a teacher is a constant reminder of the remarkable work my heroes did for me and others like me coming up in the tumultuous 60s and the revolutionary 70s. Black History Month provides me with a directive to share my story and the greater stories of black heroes, most of whom put their lives in jeopardy every minute simply by doing what they felt compelled and driven to do.

I would like to at least think that I am having a sliver of the impact on the students today as my teachers, especially black teachers, had on me. I am humbled every time I enter the classroom at the job they did in shaping our country through the gospel of not letting anyone fail.

Jeffrey C. Faulkner

Jeffrey Faulkner teaches 8th grade at C.W. Stanford Middle School in Orange County, and he was a Kenan Fellow in 2013.