February, many schools proudly teach, is Black History Month -- a time to reflect on the adversities and triumphs of black Americans.
But administrators at the mostly white and affluent Rampart High School in Colorado Springs have decided not to join the celebration. Instead, they are sponsoring multicultural festivities on Friday, provoking criticism from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which says Black History Month enhances the education of everyone, not just blacks.
"Not to celebrate it somehow, some way, is to negate it," said Rev. Benjamin L. Reynolds, president of the local chapter of the NAACP. "In this diverse community, schools must highlight it in some way."
Nanette Anderson, a spokeswoman with District 20, defended Rampart's decision. The multicultural gala will include a talent show that recognizes the cultures of students of all backgrounds.
"Students and staff have done this for several years," Anderson said.
But Reynolds said the NAACP and other black leaders plans to seek a meeting with school administrators to discuss how black history is acknowledged at the school.
Two years ago, Juanita Bell, who is black and has a granddaughter at Rampart, noticed the school wasn't observing Black History Month. She approached administrators, asking them to reconsider.
"I wasn't asking for a month, I just thought it would be nice if they recognized black history for one day," she said. "Without black history, I think students are being mis-educated."
But administrators told her she would have to wait a year. When Bell inquired this month to see if the school would acknowledge Black History Month, administrators told her they had planned the talent show, which in the past has included Irish step dancing, karate demonstrations, Latin dance and even pop music.
"It's fallen into the category of a regular talent show," said Alexandra Morgan, a black student who graduated Rampart with honors last year and is one of Bell's granddaughters. "Some people come up and just sing any old song off the radio. ... Somewhere it's lost its purpose."
Morgan agrees that celebrating all cultures is important. Yet worries that the particulars of black history are being downplayed or even overlooked.
"In this case, (Bell and her granddaughter) have a different perspective," Anderson said. "The school is not distancing itself from any celebration. I think they're trying to be inclusive."
But Bell thinks there should be room for both the talent show and recognition of Black History Month.
"In this day and age with diversity so important in the workplace, if they don't learn about it in high school, where will they learn it?" Bell said.
A racial breakdown for Rampart isn't available, Anderson said, but overall the school district is 84 percent white and 4.8 percent black.
Morgan said those numbers are sometimes used to justify the few opportunities there are at Rampart to study black history in depth. She said the lack of black history at Rampart led her to shun recruiters from Ivy League schools and to enroll in Benedict College, a historic black college in South Carolina.
Benedict "recognizes Black History Month and we're all black," Morgan said. "Why can't Rampart say a few words?"
Black history celebrations date to 1926, when historian Carter Woodson rallied fellow blacks to broaden their understanding of their contributions to American history. Fifty years later, Americans embraced Black History Month.
-- Michael de Yoanna
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