By TAHIRAH WALKER and CHARLINE ROWLAND
What is Black Futures Month?
Sometimes written without pluralization, Black Futures Month is a February and beyond celebration. It is not a replacement for Black History Month. In addition to celebrating the resilience, accomplishments and triumphs of past Africans in the Americas, Black Futures Month also recognizes the challenges and possibilities of black futures and the work being done now to secure and celebrate those futures. The Afrofuturism and Black Lives Matter movements are at the core of the Black Futures Month. This union continues the legacy of the Black Arts and Civil Rights movements. From visual art and social justice to technology and entrepreneurship, Black Futures Month is a time to take stock and reflect on the survival and thriving of Black communities.
Why not just have Black History Month?
This is a Sankofa approach. Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word and the symbol is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” The word is derived from the words: SAN (return), KO (go), FA (look, seek and take). The Akan people believe that the past guides the planning for the future. Learning from the past can ensure a strong future. We build on the work of the past and ask who is taking up the mantles. At Pitt, this might include people like Derrick Bell and Helen Faison.
The late Derrick Bell Jr. (LLB ’57) was a Pitt Law alumnus, professor and founder of critical race theory. He used law as means to achieve social justice, not only for his students, but also for instructors. As one of the first black teachers, then high school guidance counselor and later a deputy superintendent, the late Helen Faison (BS ’46, MS ’55, Ph.D. ’75) was a champion of urban education in Pittsburgh. Black Futures Month is a call to remember their legacies and build on their work.
How does this apply to teaching in my discipline?
As an instructor, you can consider the following teaching approaches from Sensoy, DiAngelo and Banks (2017):
Arts and humanities
Business, law and policy
Have students consider black impact on case studies as they practice creating policy analysis, research and planning documents. Perhaps have them produce a targeted report like this one featured at Nielsen. Introduce students to the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership. Incorporate instructional media like the Criminal (In)Justice Podcasts, created and hosted by Professor David Harris using the media creation lab at the Teaching Center.
Identify and implement strategies to incorporate underrepresented populations in both sides of research (participant and investigator). Be willing to highlight the current and past contributions of African-Americans to your discipline like mathematician and NASA heroine Katherine Johnson or the work of the National Society of Black Engineers. If you are in a health sciences area, you might celebrate Dr. Barbara Ross Lee, the first African-American woman to be appointed dean of an American medical school or check out this comprehensive libguide from the University Library System.
How do I engage students in Black Future(s) Month in ways that feel relevant and inclusive to everyone?
It is important to stress that much like the historical aspect of our society’s story, Black people are also integral to our thinking and planning for the future. This is true from a career development perspective as we prepare students for a global experience in the workplace where consideration of many backgrounds will be an important asset and skill. It is also true from an ethical standpoint in that an attempt to erase the existence or discussion of future existence of certain cultures fosters a mindset of colorblind racism and has the potential to perpetuate inequalities or harmful stereotypes by ignoring them. At Pitt, we understand that inclusion and seeking to understand our fellow panthers who have been marginalized is beneficial to all of us as indicated in the Plan for Pitt.
The Teaching Center’s consultants are happy to assist you with your Black Futures Month plans. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tahirah Walker is manager, learning design, and Charline Rowland is a teaching consultant at the University Center for Teaching and Learning.
"Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education,” by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo (2017, Teachers College Press)