Our Black Legacy
by Shaina Booker, Rocketship Legacy Prep Art Teacher/Enrichment Coordinator
“-AHHHHHHHHHH MAN,” my sibling and I grumbled as my Nona dragged us to yet another bell choice rehearsal across town to my aunt and uncle’s house. Every Thursday evening, we were engaged to sit upstairs watching MTV’s repetitive alternative rock music videos on their old, mid century style television. The elder, more obscure members of our community church congregated in my Uncle Buff and Aunt Ida’s basement to rehearse their own renditions of what seemed to feel like somber negro spirituals. “-Lift ev-er-yyy voice an’ sing…” the melancholy tune floated up the stairs, to their tiny, outdated canary yellow kitchen where we sat routinely. My sibling clutched the remote, cranking the volume to hopefully drown out the melodies from approaching our ears. I laugh now at this memory; I would give anything in the world to hear those classic, ole’ soul melodies singing and playing in unison. I couldn’t grasp at the time how much music, creativity, and community helped to heal and be an ever-present resounding gong within our Black community. Those were the of my history; those were the words sights of my ancestors who gave their lives in servitude for all who would come after them. An unspoken tradition that was passed down, unknowingly to us.
At Rocketship Legacy Prep (RLP), we celebrate the legacy of our ancestors all year long but especially during this Black History Month. The Enrichment Coordinators (ECC’s) of RLP came together to lead a “Black Unsung Heroes” celebration to showcase different Black historical figures who made and are still making an impact on our world. Rocketeers engage in learning about female athletes who had a profound impact on sports such as bowling, football, soccer and basketball. Rocketeers dance to the poems of Langston Hughes in celebration of Black excellence set to West African music and movements. Rocketeers learn about the first Black NASA member and their contributions to modern society. To cap it all off, our Rocketeers will create a mural to honor our empowerment as people.
Celebrating our history as Black people in this country is more important now than ever. In education, especially, there is such a focus on math, science, and reading sometimes at the expense of history. If we do not learn about and honor our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Elementary school is our children’s foundation for the rest of their lives, and if we do not teach Black history now, by the time they get to middle, high, college and beyond, our children will not understand where they came from to inform where they are going.
Focusing on unsung heroes specifically is a way for our Rocketeers to use empathy and see themselves in these figures. Seeing a Black soccer player or engineer or artist shows our kids that they can be a soccer player, engineer, or artist too. It gives our Rocketeers role models to work towards becoming themselves. I know for me, my grandparents (who raised me) exposed me to different ideas in art, science, engineering, and math that unleashed my creativity and helped me see that I could be whatever I wanted to be.
But at Rocketship, we don’t just teach Black history one month of the year, we integrate it into our work all year long. Last year during distance learning, I was struck with how integrating history and social studies into art has impacted our families. Every project we did in art last year was Black-focused as a lot of our Rocketeers had never seen Black artists before so I wanted to expose them to a wide variety of figures. What I didn’t know until this school year was that many of our Rocketeers’ parents were also on Zooms learning along with their students! At our supply pick up parade this fall, so many parents came up to me and told me they loved my art lessons and learned a ton themselves about Black artists. I had no idea!
I am so grateful to work at a place that supports culturally responsive pedagogy and art education. I’ve worked in education for 13 years – at district and charter schools – and I’ve never felt so supported as I do at Rocketship Legacy Prep. My coach always asks me what I need to succeed, gives me the materials for my projects, and gives me the space to be creative. At Rocketship, we don’t just talk about being culturally responsive, but we live it.
Shaina Booker is the Art Teacher/Enrichment Coordinator at Rocketship Legacy Prep in Washington, DC. With 13 years of educational experience, Ms. Booker brings a wealth of knowledge and love to her Rocketeers every single day.
Published on February 22, 2022
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