I speak at a lot of schools across the country, and I’ve encountered a trend that drives me freakin’ nuts. I always ask students the following question:
“How many of you want to be a professional athlete or a rapper?”
At inner-city, mostly African American schools, nearly every hand shoots up. When I ask the same question in a white suburban school, maybe 10 percent of hands are raised. I speak to a lot of schools, and this happens without fail.
I tell black kids all the time, “You ain’t gonna be me.” Even if you’re any good on the court, the odds are stacked against you. But I can tell from the blank way they look back at me: They’re putting all their eggs in this totally unlikely basket. But I get why. Young black kids get from the media an unrealistic picture of African American success. Athletes and rappers, with Denzel and Oprah thrown in.
So to mark Black History Month here at The Citizen, I’m going to introduce you every day to my Philadelphia Black History Month All-Stars. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing.
Charlotte Forten Grimké
Charlotte Forten Grimké
(August 17, 1837- July 23, 1914)
Born into a wealthy family that valued both intellect and activism, Charlotte Forten Grimké was always eager to educate and engage a deprived African American community. She was the first black northerner to go south and teach former slaves. It was during the Civil War, on union-occupied St. Helena Island, where Forten taught ex-slaves as part of the Port Royal Experiment. While there, she struggled to connect with the islanders who hardly spoke English and who struggled following the daily routines of school. Nevertheless, once she detailed her experiences in an article published by Atlantic Monthly, more schools started popping up in the south for African Americans. She was also an avid writer and kept journals that have drawn attention for their insightful take on America during and after slavery.
- Higginson Grammar School
- Norman School
- Leader of the Port Royal Experiment
- Appointed clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department
- Had work published in William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator
- The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké was published in 1988
FINAL WORD: “I shall dwell again among ‘mine own people.’ I shall gather my scholars about me, and see smiles of greeting break over their dusky faces. My heart sings a song of thanksgiving, at the thought that even I am permitted to do something for a long-abused race, and aid in promoting a higher, holier, and happier life on the Sea Islands,” Forten said.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons