I am a white woman who is passionate about recognizing and elevating voices that have been historically marginalized. In particular, I use my privilege to get other white people to see their implicit biases, acknowledge their advantage and work to change the narrative about people of color (POC), specifically students of color. I will admit that my passion and sense of urgency surrounding this topic often blinds me and at times alienates people that I care deeply about.
I am working on that.
However, I continue to be unapologetic about utilizing my platform to elevate the voices of those that don’t have the same privilege.
Why did I tell you all that? It will help you understand why Voices of Washington was such a personal project for me. Almost 4 years ago I joined Washington GT Magnet Elementary in SE Raleigh and learned that it was the first African American High School in Raleigh. Before Washington, African Americans didn’t have an option for schooling past eighth grade in Raleigh.
At Washington, we have a Hall of History that is a photo timeline of the school’s history and for several years I have wanted to bring those pictures to life for our students. Inspired by StoryCorps and Library of Congress’ Oral History Project. I approached 3rd Grade Teacher, Janet Pride, one of the most innovative, risk-takers I know about an idea I had for an oral history podcast and true to form she said, “Let’s do it!”
We began the inquiry project with the book, This School is Not White and primary document photographs for students to gain an understanding of school segregation. We followed that with a News & Observer article about alumni, Mr. James Monroe, trying to get NC to recognize the significance of Washingtons part in our states black history. We wanted students to make a more personal connection with school segregation and Washington’s role in it. A tour of Washington’s Hall of History followed so students could generate questions they had for alumni. Students then classified their questions and interviewed two alumni that attended Washington when it was an all-black school. We compiled all of the work on our student-created Voices of Washington website.
You can see our more detailed plan with connections to 3rd Grade Standards here.
The most exciting part of our project was discovering that Washington was on the National Register of Historic Places, in part due to it’s significant contribution to black history. This was a fact that had been overlooked for many years due to the records not being digitized and a historical marker never being ordered. We ordered the plaque and finished our project with an unveiling of the plaque and a student showcase for parents, community members, and Wake County Public Schools leaders. Unveiling the plaque was an amazing moment for our students, school and most importantly Mr. Monroe.
You can watch a brief video about our culminating event here.
Throughout this project, Janet and I had many moments of joy, frustration, and awe. And while there are countless moments that I will remember one of the most personal moments for me happened the morning of the event when we unveiled the plaque to the staff. I had the opportunity to explain why this project meant so much to me and what the plaque represented for me and Janet (We are both leaving Washington at the end of this school year). After I shared – the staff was leaving the media center to start the school day – and a teacher assistant, who is African American, came up to me with tears in her eyes. She hugged me, said thank you and then said something so incredibly heartbreaking,
“Thank you for showing me that I matter. I have never felt like I mattered and today I do.”
I believe we all have a personal responsibility to use our platforms and privilege to show our kids and colleagues that we see them, we honor them, and they matter.
There are many ways to do this in schools, here are just a few: through the books we choose for our classrooms and libraries, through instructional resources that we choose for our lessons, through the stories we choose to elevate and through the acknowledgment of our own implicit biases.