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Black History: Plenty More To Learn and Teach

Jazzy Wright

As a middle school art teacher in Belle Glade, Florida, it bothered Terry Thomas that his students, like moststudents nationwide, were not learning enough about Black culture.

He decided to do something about it, starting in his own classroom: He began bringing in African artifacts, such as sculpture, carved masks, and paintings, for his students to examine.

Thomas then asked them to create murals about Black historical figures, including Imhotep and Toussaint L'Ouverture. His students “learned about art while also learning about great liberators and role models,” says Thomas.

In 1989, he founded the African American Cultural Arts Organization to give his community a new perspective on art. For his dedication to teaching Black history, in 1997 Thomas was awarded the Carter G. Woodson Memorial Award, presented by NEA and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

Now retired, Thomas is currently working with the Congressional Black Caucus to create a national mandate requiring Black studies in K-12 schools.

“Until we have Black studies as a requirement, not an elective, we’ll be forever in this racial malaise,” he says. In addition to his legislative work, Thomas is currently a full-time graduate student at Clark Atlanta University, working toward a doctoral degree in Black studies.

“I plan to write books, do lectures, workshops and work towards the law,” he says.  “I might even teach again.”

He Wears His Heart On His Tee

—Ranee Patel

To keep things lively in his classroom, Richard Siegelman used to show up for class with statements like “Just Hafta Teach!” or “Dive into Books” emblazoned on his chest (on his T-shirt, to be more precise).

Siegelman, now retired, used his collection of more than 180 teaching tees to engage his students at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in Oyster Bay, New York.

   “The most important skill in life is thinking,” Siegelman says. “The T-shirts I wore were a more professional way to dress than if I had worn a more conventional suit and tie in my classroom every day.”

He was inspired by the political and free-thinking movements of the ’60s and ’70s, which often carried slogans and sayings to remind people of the causes they stood for.

He recalls his most memorable teaching moment: In 1991, his students created the winning banner for a contest sponsored by the New York Mets. Reflecting Siegelman’s emboldened spirit, the sign read “Siegelman’s Super Students” and showed Siegelman’s face painted to the body of Superman.

Siegelman continues to hear from former students, who thank him for his creative ways. They all remember those inspiring T-shirts, too. 

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