Black History Month: A Celebration of Agency

Part of our ongoing monthly series of book lists curated by Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL

When we discuss Black History, many people begin at the enslavement era. Starting the history of Black people from the aforementioned limits how young people will view the agency of people of African descent. However, if we start Black History in Africa, then young people both Black and White can develop a deep appreciation for the amazing civilizations, inventions, and general contribution that people of African descent made to the history of the world. Black History from this perspective frames people of African descent as having the agency to transform themselves and their world.

It is also important that children understand history is not something that just happened in the past, but every moment is a chance to make history. In my work with children, I found biographies of leaders of African descent as effective tools to teach children how to develop the agency to transform themselves and their world. The books below are tools to inspire children to be the future makers of Black History and World History!

The Great Mathematician Dr. Shabazz by Baba Sekou, Mama Sekou, and Sekou Afrika is an amazing biography about a STEM hero. Using a dialogue between a father and son, the authors break down the life of a man who committed himself to academic excellence in math, training future mathematics, the upliftment of Black people, and the transformation of unjust social conditions in America. This book is a tool for parents, teachers, and educational leaders who seek to encourage Black kids to embrace and excel at mathematics, while providing them with a STEM hero to aspire to be like. In addition, it is a tool to teach children about their obligation to use their dreams and talents to assist in the development of a better world.

You Should Meet Katherine Johnson by Thea Feldman is a great book. This book tells an amazing story of a STEM Hero whose love of math & intellectual curiosity propelled her to solve one of the world’s most complex problems. Her also story shows the resilience needed to pursue a dream regardless of the societal barriers. Mrs. Johnson is an exemplar for kids who dare to dream of becoming STEM heroes.

Jake Makes A World by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts is an inspirational biography of the famous Harlem artist Jacob Lawrence. The author tells the story how Lawrence’s community inspired him to make art. The vibrant and descriptive pictures will encourage young artists to make art out of their lived experiences. For parents and teachers this book serves as a conversational tool to discuss the role of life experiences in creating art.

Michelle is a biography about the amazing former first lady of the United States of America Michele Obama. This inspirational book shows the role that parental love and educational excellence played in Michelle Obama’s life. The book tells the story of how Mrs. Obama stay-at-home mother who taught her and her brother to read at when they were very young. Her parents both promoted the importance of educational excellence over material things of the world. Her story teaches parents that love and excellence are essential elements to that all dreams are built upon!

Mae Among the Stars is about an Africana Hero Mae Jamison. The book tells the story of Mae as a girl who had a dream that was nearly abandoned. The book shows the importance of parental encouragement in children pursuing their dreams. The book also teaches readers that a library is a place that serves as a foundation for dream development and advancement. The author does an amazing job at running a great moto through the book that should be written on hearts and minds of all children.

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Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL is the President of The Dreamocracy Learning Lab and Founder of The Young Dreamers’ Book Club. His work focuses on creating innovative programming, content, and initiatives to inspire children to view reading as a tool to create and build their dreams. Dr. Griffin-EL’s fundamental belief is that meeting children at their dreams is a powerful way to teach them the importance of reading. Follow him on Twitter @drgriffinel