Exploring Black History Month Through Literature: Empowering ELA Classrooms

Monday, February 5, 2024 No comments


As February unfolds, educators across the United States embrace the opportunity to delve into the rich tapestry of African American history and culture. Black History Month stands as a reminder of the resilience, creativity, and contributions of Black individuals throughout history. For English Language Arts (ELA) teachers, this month offers a prime occasion to incorporate diverse voices and narratives into their curriculum. Through the lens of literature, students can explore the complexities of the Black experience, challenge stereotypes, and foster empathy and understanding. Three powerful novels—The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas—offer poignant insights and serve as catalysts for meaningful discussions in ELA classrooms.

Sharon G. Flake's "The Skin I'm In" provides a compelling narrative that resonates with young adult readers. The protagonist, Maleeka Madison, navigates the challenges of bullying, self-acceptance, and identity in a society that often imposes narrow standards of beauty. Set in an urban middle school, the novel delves into issues of colorism and the pressure to conform to societal norms. Through Maleeka's journey of self-discovery and empowerment, students confront prevalent themes of racism, self-esteem, and the importance of embracing one's individuality. ELA teachers can guide discussions on character development, symbolism, and the power of resilience, encouraging students to reflect on their own identities and experiences.

Chinua Achebe's masterpiece, "Things Fall Apart," offers a profound exploration of African culture and colonialism. Set in pre-colonial Nigeria, the novel chronicles the life of Okonkwo, a proud Igbo warrior grappling with the tumultuous changes brought by British imperialism. Achebe's rich storytelling invites readers to interrogate notions of power, tradition, and cultural clash. ELA classrooms can delve into Achebe's portrayal of Igbo society, examining the role of oral tradition, rituals, and gender dynamics. Through Okonkwo's tragic downfall and the erosion of indigenous values, students gain insights into the lasting impacts of colonialism and the resilience of African communities.

Angie Thomas's "The Hate U Give" tackles contemporary issues of racial injustice, police brutality, and activism in America. Narrated by sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, the novel follows her journey after witnessing the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. Thomas deftly navigates complex themes of identity, code-switching, and the Black Lives Matter movement, offering a poignant portrayal of systemic racism and the power of speaking out against injustice. ELA teachers can facilitate discussions on perspective, voice, and the role of literature in fostering empathy and social change. By engaging with Starr's narrative, students confront uncomfortable truths about privilege, allyship, and the imperative of confronting injustice in their communities.

Incorporating these novels into the ELA curriculum during Black History Month provides students with a platform to explore diverse experiences, challenge preconceptions, and cultivate critical thinking skills. By centering Black voices and narratives, educators empower students to become informed, compassionate, and socially conscious individuals. As we commemorate Black History Month, let us celebrate the resilience and contributions of Black communities while actively working towards a more just and equitable society.