When President Trump announced plans to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he faced backlash for planning an event amid nationwide protests about racial injustice at the scene of one of the most disgraceful events in our nation’s history. The Tulsa Race Massacre took place in 1921 after a black teen was accused of assaulting a white teen, when a mob of white residents descended upon the Greenwood District of Tulsa — which was considered to be among the wealthiest black communities in the country — and, essentially, destroyed it, displacing thousands and killing anywhere from 30 to 300 African Americans.
But this is not about Trump. Ask yourself this question: Before last week, had you heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre?
For many, perhaps the majority, perhaps the overwhelming majority, the answer is no. And the reason for that may just be because it isn’t and hasn’t been a part of the curriculum in most school systems. In large part, black history is consigned to a mention during Black History Month or leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
So we’re encouraged both that alumni of Carroll County Public Schools are calling on the system to include more black voices in curriculum and provide resources for schools to teach and talk about race, and that the Board of Education and Superintendent Steve Lockard seem open to it.
Two petitions on the topic emerged independently and the groups are now working together. One petition calls for CCPS to support its own goals by playing a part in starting conversations about race and teaching more black perspectives in curriculum. “Conversations on race and on the role white people play in perpetuating racism in the United States must become an integral component of primary and secondary public education,” it reads. It can be viewed at change.org by searching “CCPS Commitment to Curriculum Change.”
The other petition called for an advisory committee to oversee five goals, including teaching more black history in social studies and more black authors in English classes, hiring more minority educators, and strengthening mental health resources for students that are culturally competent. This petition notes that about 4% of CCPS staff are people of color, as compared to about 15% of the student body. It can be viewed at change.org by searching “Improving Cultural Competency in CCPS Education.”
The petitions were brought up during public comment at the June 10 school board meeting.
Board Member Patricia Dorsey said: "... It behooves us to really engage in courageous conversation about race and to examine and plan for preparing our students so that they can be productive members in a diverse society.” She thanked the former students who advocated for a diverse curriculum and the deeper understanding of race relations, but said it was not the first time students had asked for something similar.
“Now is the time for us to really get serious about making sure that we are diversifying the curriculum and improving a deeper understanding of race relations,” she said. “We’ve been hearing student voices. We’ve got to act. The time is now.”
Indeed. The students want a more diverse curriculum, Student Representative Devanshi Mistry said. And Lockard said: “This is a time to make sure we are absolutely listening.”
It is a time for listening. And soon, we hope, it will be a time for acting. We urge the school system to put in place concrete steps toward ensuring more black voices — and, indeed, the voices of all people of color — are added to curriculum, while CCPS simultaneously strives to improve its minority hiring practices.
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And we hope that in future years when the Tulsa Race Massacre is mentioned, CCPS alums will be able to draw on their schooling to not only be familiar with, but to understand, what happened in Tulsa and why, with that being just one example of how focusing more on the the experiences of people of color in this country, past and present, is an essential part of education.