'Black Panther' empowers students of color by highlighting Africa's centuries of greatness
"America's Educator", NYTimes Best Selling Author, Disney's American Teacher of the Year, and Founder of the Ron Clark Academy
Teachers have to create experiences to show that African ancestral heritage doesn't reflect only poverty and pain.
Recently, Ron Clark Academy (RCA) students went viral celebrating a trip to view Black Panther. Our students’ energy reflects culturally relevant teaching and learning about Africa and heritage.
Even though the film's story is based in the fictional city of Wakanda, elements of Africa’s glorious past are reflected in its plot by displaying what African beauty and power could be without colonialism. If teachers fail to create experiences that reveal the strength and cultural pride of Africa, students of color will continue to believe that their African ancestral heritage reflects only poverty and pain.
Wakanda exemplifies images of Langston Hughes' ideals when he writes, “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.” Lacking cultural awareness, students grapple with negative images of Africa and, thus, themselves. Students at RCA are eager to experience Black Panther as it fanaticizes elements of African geography, tradition and history on the big screen.
In reality, Africa boasts centuries of greatness, yet the popular notion is that nothing good came out of Africa. RCA teachers furiously combat this notion:
►Susan Arauz Barnes uses education to allow youth to see their possibilities, beginning with how they see themselves. She was affirmed by teachers who encouraged her exploration of innate talents and her Garifuna/Afro-Latina heritage. Her classes read contemporary works that explore experiences of blacks in America and abroad.
►Pamela Haskins contrasts Mississippi’s legacy of slavery with pre-colonial Africa as embodied by the Shakespearean quote: “I speak of Africa and its golden joys,” which nods to Europe’s fascination with ancient African cultures before colonization.
►Wade King, a product of an abusive home, thrived when teachers affirmed him, and now his lessons feature the effect that Africa had on Europeans who burned ancient libraries down to suppress the positive images of the continent.
As a result of these lessons, our students know why Shakespeare would equate Africa and golden joys in the same sentence.
Taking pride in your heritage
Students learn that the city of Timbuktu boasted premier universities. They learn of Queen Nzinga of Angola and Shaka Zulu of South Africa, who both fought European imperialism to preserve native traditions.
The Africa reflected in Shakespeare’s quote is absent from American textbooks that American students, descendants from those societies, read.
Now that Black Panther illustrates examples of African greatness on the big screen, students can see how the words of Shakespeare and Hughes lean into reality and are not entirely fantasy. Affirmed by historical perspective, students can walk with their backs straighter and their heads held higher affirmed through education.
We've also learned that it is imperative for white teachers to understand the story of Africans in the diaspora, especially if they are teaching black children. Having cultivated an environment for cultural exploration, RCA students exuded an outward manifestation of inward pride. The Black Panther announcement created pure electricity and our students danced, bounced, jumped and hugged us in gratitude for promising them a trip to see the movie.
Seeing Black Panther empowers students to identify with a wide range of regal characters who are fully in charge of their destiny. Literature mirrors life, and Black Panther’s fictional setting and characters are rooted in the dream that has been deferred for centuries.