Building toward a more equitable and just world

Black History Month provides us all with an opportunity to celebrate and honor the great accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history, as well as to reflect on the lessons from the darkest moments of our collective past.

The Michigan Department of Education’s recent event to commemorate this important month, A Dining Room Discussion, lived out this purpose, and amplified the voices of nine African American women with diverse experiences within the Michigan education space, including State Board Member Dr. Pamela Pugh who hosted the discussion. The women engaged in candid dialogue around Michigan’s education system and its current challenges, including revisions proposed to the state’s new social studies standards.

Black history should be embedded into the curriculum of Michigan’s K-12 students year round – and the state’s social studies standards are an important tool for ensuring all students have access to a full education on the struggle for civil rights and civil liberties.

Many of the women voiced concerns over revisions introduced in spring 2018 to Michigan’s draft social studies standards which threaten to eliminate the complete picture of the struggle for civil rights in America. In reference to these revisions, Dr. Seena M. Skelton, Director of Operations for the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center at Indiana University stated, “to whitewash our history is to really do a disservice not only for students of color but also for white students.”

“A Dining Room Discussion,” February 21, 2019

As a civil rights organization, the Education Trust-Midwest shares these concerns and submitted public comment in September 2018 to the Michigan Department of Education, noting how preparing our next generation of leaders requires transparency and specificity. Generalizing or using significant moments as singular examples has the effect of minimizing systemic, persistent, government-sanctioned segregation, inequality and violation of rights.

As Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Senior Vice President of Community Health & Equity and Chief Wellness and Diversity Officer at Henry Ford Health System as well as Michigan’s First Surgeon General, noted at the event, “We’re seeing the impact of history every single day” in our current lives, as she called for us to “systematically un-plan” the inequities currently in place in our region and education system.

Learning about the past is an important part of preparing students to be informed, resilient and responsible citizens. Educators also need to be prepared to support students from diverse backgrounds in learning about this history, as well as the other academic skills and knowledge they will need to be successful in the 21st century and in life.  Director of Kent Intermediate School District’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell, noted that when it comes to moving the needle for Michigan in education, it’s about more than just the technical, but also our identity and how we evolve and address our biases. She called for us to make culturally and linguistically responsive teaching a priority.

To honor Black History as a part of the discussion, each participant shared about an African American hero who inspires them – and many chose men and women who devoted their lives to making sure the lives of future generations would be better. They chose men and women who paved the way and who inspired young children – the first Southern African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first African American First Lady and a woman who was deeply committed to pursuing her own education and became a college founder, civil rights leader and advisor to the president.

All of our students deserve to know about these heroes, the oppression they resisted, and the movement they built – and our students deserve to have access to the knowledge, skills, supports, and inspiration they need to make their own contributions to society, collaborate across lines of difference, and build a more equitable and just world for us all.


A recording of the MDE event is available here:


Note: A task force has been appointed to review all comments submitted to the MDE regarding the draft social studies standards, and ETM will continue to monitor the results in the coming months.