Founder of Black History 101 Engages Campus

By CHANEL STITT, Guest Writer

“Make a mental list of black elected or appointed officials, dead or alive,” said Khalid el-Hakim, founder and creator of the Black History Mobile Museum.

When it was time to share names of black politicians, there was only a variation of eight people that the audience could name, Barack Obama being the most popular answer. He explained that people don’t know of Latino, Native American, Arab and Asian politicians either.

El-Hakim stressed how important that it is for students of color to participate in voting and learning more about historical politicians of color from the past. Many people in the audience, along with el-Hakim, think that within the education system there is a gap when it comes to black history.

“When you don’t talk about black history, you’re distorting everybody’s sense of self, not just black folks, but everyone who is a part of the community,” said el-Hakim.

Students of the university pitched in about this topic later on in the discussion, and it seemed to be a topic that many have thought about over the years.

Grade school curriculums have been known to leave out large parts of black history, while historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass were focused on in class. There would be a basic amount of information learned about slavery as well.

“The greatest failure of formal education is that we push kids to look for credibility and authority when they’re learning,” said Casey MacLean, a student at U of M-Dearborn. “Something like this, you have to fall back on your critical thinking.”

It is possible to learn an extensive amount of black history by going to museums, taking African American history courses, attending presentations and reading books about the topic. It is just not found in the average federal government based curriculum.

“We have to be committed to change curriculum on the local level,” said el-Hakim. “When people see that movement, then the federal government would have to change based upon what our commitment is.”

A student rebutted this by saying he doesn’t think the curriculum would change based on how the system works with standardized testing along with regular tests in the classroom.

“There’s not going to be any changes to the federal or state curriculum until we get over this obsession of formal evaluation,” said Patrick Champine, a student at U of M-Dearborn. “Everything is testing, testing, testing.”

In the future, adding African American history to the curriculum may or may not happen, but students still want to know the truth about history. This has been an ongoing conversation in the education system but never seems to make it into the curriculum,

“For young folks that go into a classroom and do not see themselves represented in the curriculum that is given to them, then they are shut down,” said el-Hakim. “Curriculums tell you the value that you have in society.”

Representation of people of color is expressed in other ways outside of the classroom, but it can be unfamiliar to people when they are faced with the artifacts in this mobile museum. El-Hakim stated that some are excited to see these artifacts while some have cried. He has put his life’s work into giving a visual aid for people to learn about black history and culture.

“As future teachers, it’s important to be creative in how we engage students,” said el-Hakim. “We know that there are real achievement gaps, especially among students of color, and it’s our duty as educators to be creative and innovative with how we engage our students.”

El-Hakim has visited over 300 institutions and travels with up to 7,000 artifacts to hold exhibitions across the country. He will be returning for another presentation at U of M – Dearborn on March 7.