Curriculum committee to consider black studies course in October

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Members of Hate Out of Winston at the meeting of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board Curriculum Committee in May. (photo by Jordan Green)

School board members will consider adding a mandatory African-American studies course for high school students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

The curriculum committee of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board will consider adding a mandatory African-American studies class to the high school curriculum at its October meeting.

Board Vice-Chair Barbara Burke, who chairs the curriculum committee, announced the decision at the end of a school board meeting on Tuesday night, after the board heard from several residents requesting the change.

“I am announcing on behalf of the curriculum committee that we will include consideration of a required African-American studies course as a part of our new high school course offerings process,” Burke said. “And you know we have to follow a process. New courses come before the committee for consideration at the October meeting. At our September curriculum committee meeting, we will review background information about African-American history. We will hear from those experts on our staff. And we will talk about the implementation and any issues that may arise. And then we said at our October meeting we will move it to the agenda.”

In addition to Burke, an African-American Democrat from Winston-Salem, the curriculum committee includes three white members. Lori Goins Clark, the Republican vice-chair, and Deanna Kaplan, a Democrat, live in Lewisville. Leah Crowley, a Republican, lives in Winston-Salem.

“I would like to make it very clear to everyone here that I 1,000 percent support everyone here who spoke out for African-American history — a mandatory course,” Burke said.

“We cannot continue to allow members of our committee to come to these meetings week after week after week [with residents] pouring their hearts out making this request, with us just letting their request fall on deaf ears,” she continued. “Because we are moving forward. This ball is rolling.”

Steve Brooks was one of eight people who spoke in favor of a mandatory African-American studies class.

“When we look at history, history is one-sided for African Americans here in Winston-Salem,” Brooks said. “When I was in school, I was taught about all the cultures except my own. When I look at what we have contributed to this country, that’s not represented in our education and how we’re taught.

“When we look at the disparity in our education and we wonder why does it appear that one group seems to excel more than others?” he continued. “Why do some students seem interested and other students seem disinterested? It is what you’re feeding them. If you feed an African-American student a one-sided story that does not include themselves, then they become hungry to learn more about themselves. Adding an African-American history class that is mandatory will do that for African-American students.”

Everette Witherspoon, a former county commissioner, told school board members: “When African-American children are taught every day and every year that they are slaves and they are second-class citizens and taught that the great leaders of industry for the most part are white, the great business people are white, the great politicians are white and the great inventors are white, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And no wonder we have school-to-prison pipeline.”

Commissioner Fleming El-Amin, a retired Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools teacher, also made the case for a mandatory African-American studies course. “If a child’s inspired to see themselves in a classroom,” El-Amin said, “they can achieve untold results sometimes. So I plead with you: Give it your full consideration.”

El-Amin is only one of a number of local elected officials in support of the curriculum change. Zina Johnson, the community assistance liaison for Winston-Salem’s North Ward, read a statement on behalf of Councilwoman DD Adams, and Destiny Blackwell, with Hate Out of Winston-Salem, read a statement on behalf of Councilman James Taylor. Blackwell said state Sen. Paul Lowe and state Rep. Evelyn Terry have also gone on record to express their support.

Student Minister Effrainguan Muhammad said the Winston-Salem Local Organizing Committee has been asking for a mandatory African-American studies course for the past three years. Muhammad said that over the last three years community leaders “have repeatedly met with various members of the board “only to be told, ‘We’re looking into it. We need more information.’ We are now at a crossroads where a decision has to be made.”