“Black history is history”

Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust, and Gender Studies celebrates history of Black Americans in Palm Beach County

As February drew to a close, Palm Beach County community leaders pushed for greater emphasis on Black history and culture in school curricula, beyond one month of commemorations.
On Feb. 26 at 1:00 p.m. Brian Knowles, manager of the Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust, and Gender studies, and Karen Jefferson, Instructional Specialist of the organization, hosted a YouTube live stream honoring the historical contributions of Black Americans in Palm Beach County.
“The purpose of it is that we benefit all students, so we develop an understanding of each other and each other’s history and culture,” Knowles said. “I’m not trying to take away from what white people have done or what Latinx people have done. I’m just trying to include more stories and narratives of history to make sure that we get a full story that centers their perspectives and contributions evolving.”
After initial introductions from Knowles and Jefferson, Michelle Martin, program planner for gifted studies in the school district of Palm Beach County, performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” while wearing gold earrings in the shape of the continent of Africa. Following the performance, Knowles provided a brief history of Black Americans in Florida.
“The contributions of African Americans and other people who are non-white, even when it comes to women, is something that’s marginalized out of the core narrative of history,” Knowles said. “I wanted to make sure that residents of Palm Beach County and students of Palm Beach County understand that even in our local community, this has been unfortunate that our stories and history have been left out.”
Debra Robinson, medical director for Palm Beach County School Board, District 7, spoke on Black history and its representation in the school curriculum. Behind her were framed pictures of influential Black Americans against a vibrant pink wall.
“When I was in school, my story was not told enough, almost not at all,” Robinson said in the meeting. “I didn’t pay attention in school the way I should have because I was not included in the stories being told. When I found myself in the story of this country and the world, it affirmed me … I recognized the greatness of my ancestors’ brilliance, their strength, and their resistance to this country and the world that mistreated them.”
Debbye Raing, founder of the Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust, and Gender Studies, discussed the importance of preserving Black history and fostering those stories amongst the school curriculum. For those interested in learning more about Black history, Jefferson referred to the novel “Like a Mighty Banyan” by Vivian Reissland Rouson-Gossett and C Spencer Pompey, found in Palm Beach County school media centers.
“Here it is again, Black History Month,” Raing said in the meeting. “For many, it is a time to see the folded, rolled up, too familiar posters of the same African Americans come out of the closet, dusted off and hung on the walls in silenceness for the next 28 days … This historic and important celebration should not be one that suddenly becomes alive for a few weeks and then packed away.”
Raing finds these classroom posters hold a deeper significance, one found in more closely examining the faces on them.
“If you look intently into the eyes of the famous Americans adorning the classroom walls, the eyes are sending you a message,” Raing said. “They are saying that my history is the beginning of all civilization.”
Executive director of the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, Charlene Farrington, shared the history and stories of the treasurers of Delray Beach who “made their mark and left a legacy.” The treasurers presented were Kenneth Gary, also known as “Mr. Penny,” Dr. Clayton Coleman, Oliver Nathaniel, and Dr. Simon Barnes. Afterward, Knowles and Jefferson concluded the program with a call to action, directing a message to students to “continue to build upon the foundation created for us.”
“This presentation benefits everyone,” Jefferson said. “Knowing and celebrating Black History doesn’t just benefit Black students. It benefits all students. History is filled with stories that celebrate the contributions of people of various cultures and ethnicities. Black history is just as important and should be included in that narrative. Black history is history and it should be celebrated every day.”