As our country is going through a national reckoning on race, there is a newfound appetite to improve the teaching of Black and all of American history, and to underscore and celebrate the stories that showcase Black excellence and resiliency, even in the face of unimaginable adversity.
To fully understand why we created the organization 1776 Unites, consider the tale of Damon, a fictitious 14-year-old ninth grade student living in the Harrison neighborhood of Chicago’s West Side.
In 2020, the city of Chicago recorded 774 murders, the highest number of murders in any American municipality, and an increase of more than 50% from the year prior. The number of overall shooting incidents rose from 2,120 in 2019 to 3,237 as of Dec. 27, 2020 — an increase of 52%. Sadly for its residents, the greatest concentration of murders was in the Harrison, Ogden and Austin neighborhoods of Chicago’s West Side.
Despite these grisly statistics, Damon and his parents dream of leading a better life for him and eventually his children and even his children’s children. One of Damon’s refuges to foster this dream is within his school, with teachers who have high expectations of him to succeed, regardless of his skin color, gender, zip code or other circumstances. Damon would hope to learn unvarnished stories, past and present, of young people from similar or even more challenging circumstances who struggled and yet managed to thrive, even in the face of daunting adversity.
But rather than be provided those types of hopeful messages, imagine that Damon is taught that America is rigged against him because “anti-Black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” Contrary to the promise embedded within America’s bedrock principles of equality of opportunity and individual dignity, the school’s curriculum posits that “our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written.”
Unfortunately, the curriculum in Damon’s story is not hypothetical.