The school can do better during Black History Month

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Last year, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, our school made a point to recognize the struggles of the Black community. Horace Mann was determined to prove that it supports and celebrates the different cultures that make up our community. Whether it was in emails from our division heads or in-depth discussions in our classes, the school was committed to raising awareness about the issues facing Black Americans. However, as time progressed, the school has stopped addressing those issues as a full community, outside individual classroom discussions..

It is no coincidence that since #BlackLivesMatter is no longer trending on Instagram, Horace Mann has put the Black community on the back burner. Over time we gradually saw #BLM fizzling out of the news, Instagram feeds, and the mouths of people around us. Protestors no longer fill the streets demanding to be seen and heard. Oftentimes it feels like the movement was just a passing phase, a moment in time that has now become irrelevant.

This year’s Black History Month gave Horace Mann the opportunity not only to highlight the still present inequalities Black Americans face every day but also to show how far the Black community has come over the course of American history. Instead of taking full advantage of this opportunity, our school failed to make our voices heard. We needed workshops and lively discussion spaces where the Black community and its impacts were celebrated. Instead, we received a decorated bookshelf in the library and five posters in Olshan lobby, none of which came with the context needed to understand their significance. 

One thing that Horace Mann did offer was a flawed assembly in which the words “Black History Month” were never mentioned. We expect more from our school; our struggles and successes as Black Americans should be recognized.

The assembly was thoughtlessly ambiguous, leaving most students confused or completely unaware of its correlation to Black history. While we thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Samantha Speis’ presentation, the connection between Black history and dance was only briefly discussed. Having a “Black History Month” assembly in which the correlation between Black culture and tap dance was mentioned in a matter of minutes is unfair to the Black Horace Mann community.

While we acknowledge that this is a predominantly White institution, we feel that at the very least, Black students should have played a key role in the assembly. 

Before we all start blaming Black students for not participating and saying that “they could’ve been in the dances if they wanted to,” let’s think about why some Black students would not want to be in the performances. We believe that it was because many of the dances originally planned for the assembly were blatant examples of cultural appropriation. Once students were aware of this fact, many naturally did not want to take part in the performances. Only two out of the four dance classes performed in the assembly, partly due to this discomfort. Students should have never been put in a situation where they felt that by participating they would be hurting the Black community. 

Another unacceptable aspect of the assembly was that it took place in March. While we acknowledge that COVID-19 restrictions limited the school’s assemblies, there were several missed opportunities to have a Black History Month assembly during the month of February. The assembly felt like a last-ditch effort to avoid controversy. The Black students at Horace Mann deserve better. The fact that the assembly did not happen during February is a testament to the lack of attention and respect that Black History Month received this year. Along with an assembly, Horace Mann should have made it a priority to educate its students about the significance and impact of Black people and Black culture.

The disparity between the amount of effort demonstrated by our school for Music Week and the “Black History Month Assembly” astounds us. For Music Week, Horace Mann did a great job curating a week full of fun and intellectually exciting music performances. Unfortunately, the same could not be said with regard to the entirety of Black History Month.

As a predominantly white institution, the school must acknowledge and celebrate its diversity. We find the decision to overlook Black History Month offensive and disheartening. It is difficult to succeed in a space where you do not feel seen. We are embarrassed that our school decided to do the bare minimum while claiming that it supports its students of color. It is certainly not a question of resources, but one of effort. Horace Mann needs to do better.

We all know that our school is capable of much more. The students deserve more. This nation succeeds on the backs of the Black community. By not putting the necessary effort into Black History Month, Horace Mann disregarded the pivotal role Black people played in our nation’s history. In the future, Horace Mann needs to collaborate with its students of color to determine what would be the most appropriate and impactful ways to honor and uplift their communities.

We suggest that our school feature its amazing Black students and bring in guest speakers to discuss the past, present, and future of the Black community. We should have discussions in class surrounding themes like racial profiling, mass incarceration, and the impact of stop-and-frisk laws in NYC. The key to change is educating those around us. These are only the first steps. 

It is no secret that Horace Mann has struggled with racism and discrimination in the past. Giving more thought to Black History Month is a necessary step for us to take in moving beyond that ugly past. We hope that next year Horace Mann will give Black History Month the time and appreciation it richly deserves.