Standing for Black History

Student protest for a black history announcement emphasizes Shaker’s cultural representation problem


Shakerite photo

After the morning announcements failed to include a black history fact Feb. 1, students organized a blackout, in which they wore black clothes to honor black history month.

On Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month, there was no acknowledgment of black history at Shaker Heights High School.

In the past years, student P.A. announcers read historical facts about significant moments, people and events throughout black history in the United States. But on Monday — nothing. No announcement. No explanation.

By sixth period, all eyes were on senior Antonio Gonzalez, who was dumbfounded that there had been no announcement that morning. Yelling so that everyone in the upper cafeteria could hear him, Gonzalez delivered a historical fact about Harriet Tubman and the United States Postal Service, which honored her with a commemorative stamp. “There was no black history fact today, and I feel as though there should be one every single day of this month!” Gonzalez concluded, and the entire cafeteria audience cheered and clapped.

Following the protest, there was much conversation and communication among school administration, office staff and students who spoke up. The problem was fixed, and a black history fact was announced the next day. They will now be announced every day for the rest of the month.

At first, I was highly surprised and even questioned the importance that black history holds at our educational institution in Shaker Heights. Is it of no importance at all? Of just a little importance because of that one African-American History class? Or is our school trying to steer away from the fact that black history is only acknowledged for one month? I then realized that the announcement situation was the result of an entire district that is not culturally intact. It was not the office’s fault. The adults who supervise announcements should not be blamed for this. They merely forgot. In fact, if our school atmosphere doesn’t acknowledge black history, why should they be in charge of the one job that does? This is not a column to disdain administration or our school system. This is an urgent request to make it better — for all students. We should all feel represented. Black History Matters.

Without accurate racial representation, those students who are not represented are left in the dark.

As a black student here at Shaker Heights High School, I qualify our cultural initiatives as mediocre. Students here understand our diversity issue, we understand that people don’t naturally mix with another group of people just because we are all put in the same place, we understand that we have differences, we also understand that many of us only have Shaker to thank for our diverse group of friends. Shaker Heights is an amazing place in which to live and be educated.

In Shaker Heights, our academics are through the roof, and in Shaker Heights, accurate racial representation is lacking. When black students make up more than 50 percent of the student population, but the average black student will be lucky to even once in four years have a teacher who shares the same skin color, I see a huge problem. It is great that our school has acknowledged our cultural problems, and has even made plans to take action. I am recognizing the effort our school is making by trying to hire diverse staff. But I am also reminding them that they are and should be making this effort to diversify the staff because plans to take action are not equivalent to actually taking action.

I understand that although Shaker may have a large black population, society does not. I understand that the black population makes up 12.3 percent of America’s population, and that a simple counterargument is that adjusting our school’s culture in keeping with Shaker’s student population will not prepare students for a far less diverse reality. I understand that discrepancy, and I think that’s fine.

Accurate racial representation will give us hope, inspiration and a purpose. I do not want only the Minority Achievement Committee scholars such as Gonzalez to feel comfortable enough to speak out when an announcement is overlooked. I want every single student to speak up about anything they feel they need to. When all students at this school can see an adult who looks like them in a positive position, be educated by someone who understands them culturally, and learn while not always feeling alone or different, every child will be more confident — academically and culturally — in their future endeavors. Without accurate racial representation, those students who are not represented are left in the dark.

The students who spoke up this week had been nurtured — through the MAC program, through their parents, through books and movies and TV shows — but not through representation at their school. With representation, all students of all colors and ethnicities can be empowered to voice who they are and what they feel. Shaker can release strong-minded, culturally proud, and diversely experienced students into society.

On Feb. 1 there was no acknowledgment of Black History Month. But now there will now be announcements every day for the rest of the month. I thank the administration for cooperating with students when we requested the restoration of announcements, and I am also challenging the administration to help us become better represented. Shaker is progressing in many ways, and representation efforts should be one of them.

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