Lydia VanDeRiet

Black History Month Q&As: Mrs. Whitley Morse

1. How do teachers incorporate talking about Black History Month and its importance in their classes?

“I think there’s a variety of things that teachers do to incorporate Black History Month into lessons. I think it can be small, little tidbits of like, ‘Oh, do you know this person and a small profile on them?’ But then, you do see our history classes, in particular, getting in a little bit deeper into some of those topics, and people who are part of the Civil Rights Movement before and after. In both big and small ways, we’re seeing people incorporate it.”

2. Why is Black History Month important?

“I think Black History and Black History Month are important to talk about because so oftentimes, I just think about my own experience in high school. We didn’t cover a lot of the achievements of Black people throughout history. I think it’s so important to bring that focus and to highlight some of the things. I think, oftentimes, once again, and myself included, I graduated high school, and I could not have told you anything about Black people before slavery in America. And so I took it about myself, and I have some family members who are super involved in different organizations in the city and in the state but [I] really dove in myself to figure out where my people came from before that. I know some of modern history. We’re living through that, but just not knowing what was before then. I think there’s this misconception sometimes that Black people were always slaves, but there’s just so much more to it.”

3. In what ways do you think our school could do better at informing its students on the topic as a whole?

“I think, as a school, I think we do have some groups work on this, but I would love to see different opportunities for students to have to volunteer in their communities and to be able to give back to learn more. I think about the Grand Valley State University March that I was a part of. And I know some students have gone to in the past, on Martin Luther King Day where they’re able to just go and experience. I think anytime we can get ourselves out of our own bubble, as uncomfortable as it may be, it’s just necessary for growth.”

4. Who do you think are some of the most influential black historical figures? 

“My grandfather was the president of the NAACP for a long time in Baton Harbor, so Southwest Michigan. And he marched with Dr. King. He had his house bombed and crosses burned in his yard. I can’t help but to put him at the top of my list because he has just been so influential to me and the work that I do, and I know pockets of the things that he has done. I just know that he has so much more in him that I just hope that we can get out of him before we lose him.”

5. What do you think is the purpose of Black History Month is?

“I think the purpose of Black History Month is just for us to take pause and to really take time to dive into things that we may not know right. To learn more, to grow, to get involved, [and] to just help those around us.”

6. What advice would you give to students who want to further educate themselves?

“Read, read as much as you can. I think now, there are just awesome things. I look through my Instagram, I’m not on TikTok as much as some of the rest of you, but I think it’s not that hard anymore to find out more. If you want to, you just have to be willing to be deliberate and conscious about what you are looking for because we can all watch funny videos till the end of time, but really, being present and putting yourself out there. And, maybe it’s just the people that I follow and the things that I do, but I feel like I am so surrounded by it. It seems easy if that’s what you want to do.”

7. What advice do you have for students that want to educate themselves?

“Oh, goodness, there are just so many good books. There are so many good authors these days, I don’t necessarily want to limit them to one, but I think that whether you’re looking for someone local, like the president of an NAACP, or you’re looking at their youth council, if you want somebody a little bit closer to your age, I think anytime you can reach out to a local NAACP or an urban league is going to give you a wealth of very personal and real knowledge as to what’s happening in your area.”

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