As we close out our celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with Bryson Green, a dean and history teacher at AF East New York Middle, to talk about how his school brings Black history to life in February and throughout the year.
Thanks for talking with us, Bryson! Can you tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to Achievement First?
This is my seventh year as an educator. I was born and raised in Milwaukee and attended University of Wisconsin-Madison. I did Teach For America after I graduated back in my hometown. I taught fifth grade as a corps member, and then stayed in Milwaukee and became a dean. I gained a lot of experience, but I wanted to be challenged in a new environment, so that’s when I moved to New York. It’s a different world, but I have big goals for myself, and I like new challenges to overcome.
How would you describe your approach to Black History Month?
When I think about teaching anything relating to Black history, I like to think about continuity. It’s not just highlighting it one month of the year—it’s infusing it into everything we do as a school. In our assemblies and community circles, we have conversations about identity. One example is a discussion our culture team led in which teachers were asked about how they identify, appreciation of and struggles with their identity growing up, colorism, and dual identities. You can be Latino and identify as Black. You can be light skinned or dark skinned and identify as Black. When conversations are sparked, we can continue them in the classroom and make them relevant to where we are in our curriculum. As a history teacher, I don’t want to stop a lesson to say “we’re going to discuss Black history;” that’s too cliché. Black history is American history, so when we talk about the accomplishments of Black people, we’re talking about the accomplishments of Americans.
During Black History Month, we often hear about people like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X, but are there other figures you would like to highlight with scholars?
When it comes to highlighting Black history, we think about all the content in front of scholars and use that as a launch pad for who we celebrate. It’s not just in history class, it’s the authors in literature, or even geographers or mathematicians, too. For all our subjects and topics, we also talk about the deep, rich history and people behind it. We want to show that history is a vast thing—there are so many fields and careers and so many people of color who have done great things in those fields. We want students to see themselves in what they study.
What do you hope your students take away from their study of history and celebrations of Black History Month?
This year, we’re really taking the opportunity to highlight our core value of “Lead for Racial Equity” with kids and adults. We wanted to balance how we approached Black History Month. We don’t want to just say “today is our Black History celebration,” and we also don’t want the month to go by without shining a light on it. During our community circles, we’ve talked about both notable figures and hidden figures from history, and how their contributions can apply to our lives. Scholars need to see themselves and people who look and talk like them in the fields they’re interested in. It’s an ongoing conversation—I like to reground in a shared understanding of what history is. It’s always ongoing and unfolding—our kids are part of history. They are the figures in history that their children will study. I want to empower them with the tools and the support to bring out what’s already great in them so they can say “I am the agent who’s going to change the trajectory of history.”
That’s a very powerful message. Thanks for sharing, Bryson!