ANDERSON, Ind. — Dontrez Braxton will have only a dim memory, if that, of a time before there was an African-American president.
Such a thing, which only 10 years ago seemed nothing more than an implausible future, is now part of the 8-year-old Valley Grove second grader's personal history.
Dontrez's teacher, Carlynn Malone, said she has long incorporated black history into her lesson plans during February when Black History Month is observed.
Although this year's many school cancellations and delayed morning openings has forced her and other teachers to adjust daily lesson plans, Malone has carved out time in the day to let children read books and hear stories about great African Americans like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, George Washington Carver and others.
These stories, Malone said, are coupled with short writing assignments on integrity, bravery, and having a dream -- topics that students can apply to their own young lives.
"They're shocked in second grade to learn about the inequality that used to exist," Malone said, "but it's history they need to know about."
Dontrez has already learned about King and Parks who, on Dec. 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Ala. refused the order of a bus driver to give up her seat in the designated black section of the bus to a white passenger. Parks' defiant act became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and an important symbol of the modern civil rights movement, and also helped bring to prominence King, who at the time was a young minister in Montgomery.
Dontrez said he's already used that example of standing up for one's self and others in his own life when some kids were picking on his friends.
"I didn't like that and I told them to stop," he said.
Dontrez's older sister, Diandra, 9, chimed in that King "seems like a really nice guy who had a dream to make changes to bring people together."
She was referring, of course, to King's famous "I Have a Dream," speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.
On that day, King said in part: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today," he said to resounding applause.
The idea of celebrating black history was first proposed by historian Carter G. Woodson in the mid-1920s, and began as "Negro History Week," to be commemorated the second week of February. The date was chosen because February marks the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, according to historical accounts.
The U.S. government officially recognized Black History Month as part of the United States Bicentennial in 1976. At the time, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
Dontrez and Diandra's mother, Lisha Symon, is grateful the school emphasizes Black history, and it has led to conversations at home.
"I think it's great," she said. "It's part of history. To me, it's important they know these things and how far we've all come has human beings."
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