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Celebrating Black Excellence Can’t Be Confined to Just One Month. Here’s Why.

Rocketship RISE serves mostly Black students who come from DC’s most underserved neighborhood. Our Rocketeers face systemic racism, oppression, and violence every day of their lives. After the murder of George Floyd, resulting protests, and national reckoning with racial violence, we knew that we needed to do something different this school year at RISE. We have a responsibility to imagine a world that is outside of the confines of white dominant culture, where our teachers, students, and families can experience liberation. Liberation does not come easily or quickly – this is a process that we struggle to put into practice every day.

Showing our Rocketeers that Black lives truly matter by unabashedly centering our students’ identities is a step in the right direction. This year at RISE, instead of naming our cohorts after the colleges of their teachers, every cohort represents a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). We, like many, focus on higher education as an end goal for our students. By focusing our efforts on HBCUs, we give our students the opportunity to see what it is like at places that are designed for and by Black people. We teach them about their academic prowess, their commitment to community, and their incredible extracurriculars. Many of our students had never seen a band play quite like they do at Southern University. These HBCUs become even more real as members of our team speak about their own experiences including Morgan Jones and Tera Bee at Bowie St., Kenice Griffin at St. Augustine’s University, and our DC Executive Director Candice Bobo at Clark Atlanta University (and many others from several illustrious institutions). This intentionality elevates the idea of windows and mirrors because we don’t discuss it as a far away intangible, but instead as a critical component in the development of our teachers and leaders into the amazing people in front of our students each day.

Centering our students’ identities is also about celebrating and shining a light on the incredible people in our Black communities and histories every day. We cannot confine the celebration of Black excellence to one month or one event. Each day at Launch, we take the time to name an important event or historical feature in a popular segment called “Today in Black History.” Through this, our community has had the opportunity to expand their knowledge beyond the commonly-featured. In addition to learning about Rosa Parks and MLK, we also learn about inventors, historians, artists, and many others to convey the breadth of contributions to our world by Black people. People like Kizzmekia Corbett, Brandan Odums, and Lorraine Hansbury display what Black individuals have accomplished in the past and present to open the door for our students to see a world of possibility and potential in their futures. Our students stare in awe of these figures, impressed by their accomplishments, and in that moment each morning and threaded throughout the day, allow themselves to hope and dream for themselves.

The identities of our RISE Rocketeers include their place living in our nation’s capital. Being here, we experience the current political landscape right outside of our windows – from the lows of the insurrection at the Capitol to the highs of the inauguration of Kamala Harris as Vice President with all of the identities she represents. For us, the idea of power takes on new meaning. When our city and federal governments do not affirm the identities or lived experiences of Black people in DC, it is our responsibility to prove what’s possible. We encourage our students and families to see their own power – to mobilize, to rally, to share their thoughts, to dream of a better tomorrow. One of our amazing teachers, Riah Williams, created a curriculum that has been implemented across RISE called “Seeds of Civil Power.” This is an opportunity for students to explore their own identities and their places in the world.

And yes, we can celebrate Black History Month! Tomorrow evening from 5-7pm EST, RISE Rocketeers from each grade are coming together to celebrate on the theme of “My Black Matters.” The event will be broadcast on our Youtube page here – please join us!

We can be hopeful and optimistic, but we cannot rely on others to lay the foundation for our students’ liberation. Instead, we must present their full lived experience and potential. We acknowledge the pain and trauma of the Black existence in this country, in this climate, in the past and present. But we also uplift the stories of accomplishment because our students, families, and community deserve to be affirmed for being exactly who they are.

Published on February 20, 2021

Read more stories about: Diversity.