March is Women’s History Month. For those of us who are history buffs and/or have the job of teaching history, these themed-month celebrations are really handy for helping students learn about important people who might be totally new to them.
However, as much I love Black History Month and Women’s History Month, it’s easy for the celebrations to become very formulaic. Every month, students find “special people” and give reports on who that person was and what they accomplished. Again, all great stuff, but, in my opinion, insufficient. The intention of studying historic people, is so that students can see themselves, and believe in their ability to also make social change.
Ida B. Wells, is a popular choice for both Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Most students can recite the basic details of her life, “anti-racism writer, speaker against lynching, and suffragette.” And those are all true descriptions of her, but it doesn’t get to who she was, what she was up against.
For me, it wasn’t until I began writing about racism that I finally understood how much pressure and danger Ida B. Wells faced for speaking up against racism from White terrorists, from middle-class Black folks, and White liberal suffragettes. When I understood the totality of Ida B. Wells legacy, it made me feel less alone and understand that I, too, can be brave and speak my truth, to those same groups.
Let’s Ask Our Young People How Inspiring Women Help Them in Daily Life
When we ask young people to present on women in history, it’s important to ask them to tell us how they see connections between what those women faced and the challenges our girls (and boys!) are facing in their own lives today.
It is with that thought in mind that I asked school-age girls to talk about the women in history who inspire them and how their stories inspire their lives and work in school and beyond. Here are some of their responses:
Chicago 8-year-old. She-ro: Harriet Tubman. “She got freedom in the North, but she didn’t stay there. She went back to help other people.” How does Tubman’s story inspire her today? “If my friends don’t know something, or need help learning, I want to help them.”
Bay Area 7-year-old. She-ro: Mae Jemison. “I know that I can be smart in science and like dancing, too.”
Chicago 9-year-old. She-ro: Queen Liliuokalani. “She was a powerful woman who fought for her country when the United States wanted to take it over.”
Oak Park High School ninth-grader. She-ro: Malala Yousafzai. “She is like me, a Muslim woman, strong and smart.” Yousafzai reminds her, “We shouldn’t take our life, safety and education for granted.”
As we continue to celebrate historic figures during Women’s History Month and Black History, let’s make sure that our young people know more than just the summary of these folks. When our students, our children, take on presentations for Women’s History Month, let’s make sure to ask them to speak about how the women they are studying connect to their experience today. And let’s be there with them as they grow and discover new and deeper ways to identify with their joys and challenges, just as I have done with my she-roes.