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NaShonda Cooke's picture

Of course Black History Month is important to me. I’m an African American woman who just happens to be a mother and an educator. So, in a sense every day is possible for me because of Black History. I have a responsibility to continue the tradition of passing down knowledge to my children as well as to my students who eventually become my children. There’s much to learn from the past struggles and accomplishments of Black History. The world can become a better place for all of us, if we take heed in what the lessons are. My calling is to make sure that happens.

When I was a little girl, my mother would often tell me about how growing up in Montgomery Alabama, the daughter of a preacher who worked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King was exciting, and not always in a good way. She remembers playing with his children during meetings that would become the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement. She also remembers her mother’s arm being snapped in half as she protected my 6 year old mother from hoses that were turned on to her and other children who were protesting and marching for equality. From these stories I learned about the great Inez Baskins, my mother’s Godmother, who became a confidante to Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy. She was a walking journal as she recorded the minutes of meetings. Mother Baskins as we were refer to her is best known for taking the first ride with Dr. King at the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She interviewed several of the great leaders as the only female reporter permitted to document history as it was happening. These moments in my mother’s life instilled great pride in her and she passed it on to us. She made sure we celebrated the accomplishments of Black citizens EVERY DAY not just during the shortest month of the year. She made sure we knew the importance of not just registering to vote but to actually exercise that right. My mother never missed a moment to educate us or any child she had a conversation with. "Your ancestors’ blood spilled so you can have the freedoms you have today. Don’t waste it.”

My two young daughters continue to hear those same stories and are learning these same lessons. “You wouldn’t be in this school if it weren’t for Ruby Bridges, the Little Rock Nine, and even who was to become the first minority female doctor to graduate from a North Carolina school university. Don’t waste it.”

My mother was also an educator, I remember being as young as 4 and going into her classroom and watching her students not just learn the curriculum, they learned how to care for themselves and be a positive part of their world. They were learning how to read and write, but also to be respectful collaborators as well as self-advocates. They also learned to be creative and not allow others to determine their future. Their creativity was celebrated and challenged. I have been an educator for the last 16 and a half years, and my students continue to receive those lessons. Specifically, a group of boys I have the distinct honor of leading.

Men of Honor is a group that consists of 4th and 5th grade minority males. They come from all walks of life. However, the majority of the population of my school is students who are at risk of falling in between the cracks. They are black (strike one).  They are male (strike two). They are poor (strike three). But guess what? I refuse to count them out! I will not let them wallow in what others label as attributes of shame or dead ends. I will not allow them to give up. These young men are taught their history and the possibilities simultaneously. They are charged with continuing a necessary plight for the world, not just Black America.

Winston Churchill once said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Frederick Douglass stated, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” I am doing my part to address both claims. Men of Honor participants are a part of a special movement. These young men are learning to recognize they are needed. They are needed to continue a great tradition of inventors, doctors, educators, leaders, engineers, philosophers, etc. The possibilities are endless. The motivation is the need and their growing confidence. These are enriched through such activities as chess club, spoken word, mentorship, college tours, etc.

Men of Honor is a goal. My boys are still young, but they are exposed to the world that awaits their creativity to become the next generation of greatness. I know I have a president in my classroom. I have the doctor who will cure HIV/AIDS. I have the politician will assure equal pay for women. I have the inventor of methods to end poverty. I have the philosopher who will end war. It’s not important that I know. Now they know it. They know they are the future faces of Black History Celebrations.

This is a picture of Inez Baskins, riding with Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and a reporter the day the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended. Below is the journal entry date of Mother Baskins on June 18, 2007. She mentions the birth of my daughter.

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