D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) students will soon wrap up their weeklong February break — a break that some fear interrupts Black history instruction during the lone month designated for the celebration of Black achievements.
To fill that void, retired teacher Emma P. Ward has called for the expansion of a cause she has long championed: the collection and dissemination of Black Facts, a “this day in history”-styled compilation found weekly on page 6 of The Washington Informer, to District schools for students to study and recite in classrooms, over the intercom and during assemblies.
“I’m not complaining that school is out, but am just asking what the city will do to enhance Black History during that time,” said Ward, Ms. Senior DC 2011.
Since 2015, Ward has cut out and laminated editions of Black Facts, each of which recounts significant events from the past on the day they occurred.
On Feb. 3, Ward told an audience at the UNIA-ACL Woodson Banneker Jackson-Bey Division 330’s book fair about the then-upcoming break, scheduled to start after President’s Day and end on Feb. 22. She later implored guests to contact their D.C. Council member about the matter and join her in laminating past editions of Black Facts.
Ward’s “Black Facts” project, currently in the works, will build upon what she described as ongoing programs at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Southwest, Ketcham Elementary School in Southeast, and Noyes Elementary School in Northeast that connect students with Black history and The Informer.
Recently, Ward added Arthur Capper Recreation Center in Southeast, Bennett Career Institute in Northeast and Masjid Muhammad in Northwest as hubs for Black history teachings.
“Why not send out this information to the recreation departments?” she said. “My ultimate goal is to get The Washington Informer in all of the public and charter schools. This [mid-winter break] is a catalyst for us to get the ‘Black Facts’ out during the rest of the school year.”
Black Facts has been a key component of The Informer since the late 1980s when staff members published compilations of Black history facts that the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the umbrella organization for The Informer and nearly 200 other Black-owned U.S. newspapers, sent its members in weekly packages.
Throughout the years, as Black Facts grew in popularity, The Informer used additional sources to produce a diverse, up-to-date array of historical data. Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Informer, said Black Facts has become an important community engagement tool, to the point that readers have called The Informer’s headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Congress Heights to report discrepancies.
“We’ve had various teachers use Black Facts as a learning tool. That’s the reason we maintained it,” Barnes said. “This is the first time we met someone like Ms. Ward who has gone beyond the call of duty to cut them out and laminate them.
“For us, Black history is every day, every week, and all year,” she said. “You can’t forget the little-known Black history facts some of us need to know more about.”
DCPS counts among a number of school districts in the Northeast that have mid-winter breaks. The decision to follow New York City Public Schools and others in adjusting the calendar had reportedly followed parental feedback about too many half-days and a lack of rest between winter and spring breaks.
Representatives from DCPS didn’t return The Informer’s inquiries about how the break would affect Black history instruction.
Ward’s reach extended beyond DCPS when she introduced Black Facts to a private school student she had been tutoring. Melisa Woodson, the young lady’s mother, applauded Ward’s tutelage of her child, saying it would help her appreciate her value to her school community.
“I was excited about this because it’s important for our children to be aware of Black history,” said Woodson, mother of a 10-year-old student at Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, who lives in Northwest.
In 2008, Woodson and her daughter, then three months of age, experienced history together when Woodson voted for presidential candidate Barack Obama, who would go on to become the nation’s first Black president.
“All some young people knew of was a Black president up until Trump,” Woodson said. “We knew how important Black history was, but some young people don’t get it. It’s important for my daughter to have a balance. As a 10-year-old, she has awareness. Learning Black history facts gives her confidence and more self-awareness in her identity.”