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On Teaching the Lessons of African-American Leaders

March 28, 2017
On Teaching the Lessons of African-American Leaders

On the heels of Black History Month, Teach For America corps member Porshia Hall (Alabama '15) shares how she infuses Black history lessons into her classroom all year long.

Q: How did your interest in social justice inspire you to teach?

Porshia: I was inspired to teach once I started to view educational inequity as a social justice issue. Prior to joining Teach For America, I was convinced that the only way I could truly fight the social injustices that prevail across our country in low-income and at-risk communities was to be an attorney. However, while pursuing graduate studies at Alabama State University, I began to study the effects that the Brown vs. Board of Education decision had on public education and children of color. Understanding this research forever changed my viewpoint on how education, our legal system, and social justice all intersect and influence many children of color’s experience in their school communities and society as a whole.

Q: As an educator, what important lessons are you sharing with your students about Black history and Alabama’s social justice roots all year long?

Porshia: I feel that the most important lesson to share with my students is that the rich history of African-American leaders cannot be limited to a month. I strive to promote these lessons from August to May in my classroom because Black history is American history.  Further, our history is not limited to the figures that they see in textbooks and historically-based movies. Accessing these resources are important, but they must be willing to go beyond what they learn in school or see on TV to fully understand the depths of our history. I encourage my students to look for history within their families and their neighborhoods. Birmingham was one of the major battlegrounds for the modern Civil Rights Movement, and there are still so many unsung heroes alive whose stories are yet to be told. I encourage my students to find and celebrate these individuals.

Q: Throughout your own education, who were the African-American and social justice leaders that inspired you?

Porshia: I grew up in a small town in Alabama. The first African-American leaders that inspired me were those who served in my community: Black city council members, county commissioners, and school leaders. I looked up to these people because I saw that they were invested in making our community better. As I grew older and continued to learn more about history, civil rights activist Diane Nash became my “shero.” Her story and activism inspired me because she was not much older than my students when she began organizing through both the Nashville Student Movement and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Her level of commitment and determination is one that I can only hope to achieve as I work alongside other educators to equip our students with the skills necessary to succeed and give back to their communities.

Q: President Obama once referred to education as the civil rights issue of our time. How are educators, parents, and community groups in Birmingham working to address inequities?

Porshia: There are so many great students, community organizations, and educators in Birmingham who are fighting hard to break down the barriers of social injustice in education and a variety of other sectors, and I am so fortunate to be a part of this local movement. Personally, I feel that promoting awareness is the simplest way to start mobilizing against inequities in our community. As an educator, my goal is to promote a sense of self-advocacy among my students to fight for the issues and challenges that impact their daily lives. To me, it’s like history coming full circle. We must draw on the lessons of history to teach students how to advocate for themselves so they can be the next generation of leaders for their community and our country.