February 9, 2021




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

Opting Out of Black History?

Ogden, Utah, is a town of roughly 17,000 residents, 3 percent of whom are Black. Last week, the town’s Maria Montessori Academy “reluctantly,” decided to grant the wishes of parents who demanded that their children be allowed to opt out of the school’s planned Black History Month activities. Local leaders responded with outrage, leading the public charter school to eventually reverse its decision.  

A slider image from Maria Montessori's homepage
A slider image from Maria Montessori's homepage

Maria Montessori’s parents are just one example of groups across the country that are pushing back against efforts to make American history more accurate and inclusive. The Pulitzer Center’s new 1619 Project Education Network is the type of program that gets these groups all riled up. The initiative is inviting K-12 educators to apply for one of 40 slots in its inaugural cohort of leaders who are focused on improving the way Black history is taught in American schools. Selected participants will receive grants of $5,000 to support exploration of key questions of racial justice and other pressing issues. Though the program is primarily recruiting educators, media teams that include K-12 educators in leadership roles are welcomed to apply.

Black filmmakers have long played an important role in educating Americans about the historical contributions of Black folks. Henry Hampton’s epic Eyes on the Prize is a prime example, but I dare say the work produced by all BPM grantees serves this purpose. Which is why I hope those of you who feel called to the Pulitzer Center’s new 1619 Project will apply.

As media makers, the BPM family is in a highly influential position. We not only fund  Black media storytellers and help their work get distributed, we create and seize opportunities to advocate for more accurate and inclusive historical storytelling. I’d like to thank BPM Weekly Digest subscriber Joe Olague for bringing the Pulitzer Center's new education initiative to my attention.

It was Carter G. Woodson’s vision that Black people’s contributions would eventually become an integral part of the national narrative, appreciated by all Americans. Hopefully, the students of Maria Montessori will emerge better educated than their parents. Opting out of Black history should never be a choice. That said, it will take media makers, educators, community leaders, policy makers, and journalists all doing their part to realize Woodson’s dream.

In closing, I invite you to consult BPM’s Black History Month page to peruse the opportunities that are available to you this week. And I hope you’ll consider buying a ticket to our Black History Month basket giveaway. Tickets are available until midnight on Fri., Feb. 19, and the recipients will be announced at our African Diaspora Film Club gathering on Sun., Feb. 21. All proceeds benefit the BPM Emergency Relief Fund. 

Virginia historical maker photo courtesy of DrStew82 (Wikimedia commons)