Terrance Sims Jr. (Milwaukee '15), whose fourth graders' Black History Month project has been trending nationwide, shares why representation is key.
February 24, 2017
This Black History Month, I created a “Representation is Key” project for my students that has gained national recognition. The project was created to reaffirm the beauty, power, and academic excellence of the students in my school, Milwaukee College Prep.
The idea was simple. I’d photograph students dressed as popular African American figures and recreate iconic moments of Black history using their faces. The first image we recreated was the cover art for the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures. That graphic has since gone viral, having been shared by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, and covered in several national and local media outlets. The image of my three young students embodying the instrumental role that Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine Johnson played in helping NASA to win the space race has given momentum to the entire project.
Additional posters are being created and will be on display at my elementary school’s Black History Program. From there, we will hang the posters around the school to remind our students, staff, family, and community that our scholars are powerful, motivated, and beautiful—a narrative that is often untold. The posters will cover a variety of examples of excellence among Blacks—including arts, entertainment, education, politics, and culture to highlight the beauty of Black history from numerous paradigms.
Considering the challenges our city has experienced in the past year, it is exciting to see so many people rally around a positive movement—one of educational excellence that can propel our students further. Being a part of this movement is the reason I chose to teach in my hometown through Teach For America. Our students can accomplish anything they put their minds to. We must only believe in and support their brilliance.
“Considering the challenges our city has experienced in the past year, it is exciting to see so many people rally around a positive movement—one of educational excellence that can propel our students further. Being a part of this movement is the reason I chose to teach in my hometown through Teach For America. Our students can accomplish anything they put their minds to. We must only believe in and support their brilliance.”
Amazing things happen in Milwaukee daily, and it means a lot for the city to be displayed nationally through the incredible work of our students. The recognition allows students to see their success while also putting the rest of the nation on notice about the beauty and potential of our youth.
The project has grown from one at my school to a citywide effort. Milwaukee Public Schools picked up the project and I will go from school to school to create similar posters with students in each building. A number of Milwaukee high school students who study graphic design will assist in the work.
All work is being done through an organization I recently created, #SimsStrong. It's named in memory of my father, Terrance Sims Sr., who recently completed his fight with brain cancer and has transitioned to a better place. He lived a life of service and of love—a mindset that inspired this work for our students.