instructing about civil rights in 2021

From his classroom at Shelby High School, Mike Wilbanks saw how history unfolded, be it the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But never before has he seen a year like 2020 that reflected things so closely in his lesson plans.

“2020 was definitely a unique moment. All of these things happened at the same time. The social movement, the social unrest, the political divide, all of these things happened at once. In history, you could take these things at three different times and watch them on, but I don’t know I’ve ever seen it all packed up like it is now, “said Wilbanks.

“It’s almost scary,” said JeNai Davis, director of diversity and intercultural initiatives at Gardner Webb University. “I’m a younger person and I’ve learned about these things in my classes. To see OK, wow, that reminds me of some things I’ve learned – it’s scary to know that we’re still dealing with these things employ. “”

Mike Wilbanks

Wilbanks and Davis are both in a unique and challenging position. How does an educator teach something that feels so far removed from the present, even as it unfolds on screens in front of students?

“One thing I emphasize to my students is that I don’t know what it is like to be a black man in America. I can only tell you that you are safe in our field house and in our shops,” said Wilbanks, also the sports director and chief football coach at Shelby. “There is no tolerance for racist statements or discrimination. I think I have a good mix of trainers in my staff, black, white, old and young. When someone needs to speak, our trainers are always available. And we as staff speak to you about what we can do to help our players, not just our black players, all of our teenagers. “

As a teacher, Wilbanks said his history course tends to focus on the bigger picture of racial injustices in America and how the country was built to the point where the civil rights movement took hold.

Before the Martin Luther King name appears, students will have a timeline that goes back to Booker T Washington, WEB Du Bois, Emmett Till, and others. He talks about lawsuits like Plessy v Ferguson, which established the constitutional legitimacy of “separate but equal,” and Brown v Board of Education, which overturned the Plessy ruling and a number of presidents too fearful of the status quo disturb, and they kicked the can of racial injustice down the street.

“And what I want to emphasize to my students are the privileges and rights we enjoy today, especially my minority students. It is not a given that you can vote, go to school or go to college,” said Wilbanks. “These are things that some fought for and died for in the 50s and 60s.”

Davis said it wasn’t difficult to see the similarities between America today and that of the 1950s and 60s, whether it be studying the struggle for racial justice or the struggle for equal pay in the workplace, or ending the brutality of the police force. The harder thing is to find a way to put these similarities into action and address some of the outstanding issues that they highlight.

“We hear it all the time and see it all the time that we have to reform the systems and start from the blanks, but it is important to understand that we cannot. Imagine a society where it is us fine when we get rid of them. ” of all of our laws and rules so that we can start over, “she said.” It starts with what we can currently work with. Of course we can’t reform every police department in America, but we can look at where the crime is really high and where the racial problems are and branch out from there. “I think often we don’t realize that change takes time and change takes place Progress is. We just want it right now and that’s just not realistic. “

If that is possible, Davis says there is no reason not to be optimistic about the country’s future.

“This is going to take years of continuous work and effort. It’s not just when you see a news article and then you’re on social media for a month or two and really get upset about it, and then you don’t hear anything else. It’s not on something to. You have to work on it all the time. “

Dustin George can be reached at 704-669-3337 or [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @DustinLGeorge.

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