While our stance has always been that Black History is American History, to be studied and understood all year round, throughout a student’s education as well as in our adult lives, we also honor the opportunity that Black History Month gives us to highlight the importance of this learning.
As one way of marking Black History Month, the Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP has held an essay/arts contest for high school students in Rutland, Bennington and Addison counties since 2021. This year we are joined in this effort by the Windham County NAACP, and the scope of our contest will change.
The contest is open to all high-school age students who live in the state of Vermont. All 9th -12th graders, including both in-schoolers and home-schoolers, are eligible. All school-based educators are also eligible, in a different category.
Contest deadline is March 16.
- write an essay of 250-1000 words;
- create a visual art piece, or
- create an audio/video piece
Each of the three categories is eligible for a $500 cash prize.
- write a 250 – 1000 word essay, to be eligible for a prize consisting of $500 worth of books of their choosing, with the stipulation that the books are either for equity-based professional development for their schools (in which case the books also come with a training session on how to use the materials from the NAACP education committee), or can consist of class sets of books for students which are appropriate for teaching about Black lives in history, the arts, the sciences and other domains.
Our prompt this year is to tell the story of an individual or an event in Black history which has not been widely known, studied or taught, and which has changed the trajectory of history and had an impact on our lives and our world today.
Examples of such stories that have recently been brought to light:
a) Individuals — one example would be the Black mathematicians Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who worked at NASA during the Space Race and were the people responsible for getting Americans to the moon, popularized in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” as well as in the NBC series “Timeless.” These individuals are deeply important because many/most of us who are adults now were raised thinking that white men were responsible for “sending us to the moon.” The achievements of these three women have enormous impact on our lives, since they are not only about having engendered the possibility of space exploration for our planet, but have engendered whole new arenas of science since the 1960s.
b) Events like Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre of 1921, which obliterated the thriving and economically successful Black neighborhood now known as “Black Wall Street” — and the many, many similar events in American history which resulted in the removal of life, property and wealth from Black communities. Many/most current-day adults did NOT learn about these events in school; they are deeply significant since they demonstrate how the ongoing American genocide of Black people and the theft of property and business has historically resulted in the consistent stripping of any possibility of generational wealth from the Black community, so that almost all Black labor can only result in the enrichment of owning-class white people. Our current understanding of Black Wall Street has been popularized in the television series Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, as well as in other TV series and numerous documentary films.
Note: We’d ask that no-one actually use these two examples, since they have already been popularized via media. We are looking for stories which are still less widely-known and/or taught.