William T. Saunders is a ninth-grade composition teacher at AF Hartford High School.
It may sound cliché, but when I hear “Black History,” I think of American History. At times I feel people get caught up in the word “Black” before History. Black History is the history of every person living in America. Our history (Black History) is interwoven with the history that helped build this great nation.
So, when I think of Black History or being Black in America I think that I’m the very fabric, the foundation that this nation is built on.
People would believe that one would become hard from all the negative stereotypes faced from being Black in America, but that hasn’t happened to me. I truly believe being Black has made me a kinder, gentler person. I find that I am more understanding to opposition. I was raised by my great-grandmother and grandparents. My great-grandmother was only second-generation removed from freed slaves. She would always tell us stories of her personal experiences dealing with racism and sexism while growing up Saluda County, South Carolina. However, she never spoke of the world as a dark place. She only exuded love and kindness. She believed that Black people would bring peace to this country. I have the same beliefs. I don’t see the world as a place that is full of hate. Being Black has forced me to see the world as a place that needs more love.
William and his family, growing up.
Being Black also made me who I am as a teacher. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to teach. I didn’t know what I wanted to teach, but I knew I wanted to teach something. However from an early age, I recognized there weren’t many of my teachers who looked like me. This left me with the feeling that Black people didn’t teach. The message I was really receiving was, “Black people don’t go to college or achieve well academically.” If I had this feeling, I was pretty sure other young gifted Black men had the same feeling. As one of the first people in my family to actually graduate with a degree, I knew I had an obligation to change that mentality.
I begin to reflect on my time as a dancer. While dancing I had the best connection with a retired principal dancer from the Pennsylvania Ballet. I became really strong in his class, and overall Vaganova Ballet Technique, because he was the first teacher I had that looked like me. I started to develop this sense of pride in my craft and began to strive to be the best. I wanted to have the same impact on people that my first Black ballet teacher had on me. I also knew then that when I did become a teacher I would work with students that resembled myself.
William during a performance of Ballet Noelle.
My race has given me the ability to interact with scholars on a more personal level. Scholars are comfortable talking with me because there are things as Black people that we have faced together. I don’t believe every Black person has to have a hard life to know what it’s like to be “Black,” but I do believe we all share a common experience. I am always sure to encourage our scholars. I want them to know, not just know but truly believe, that they can accomplish anything despite any setback. I am always able to be my 100% authentic self with our scholars, because of this they are always able to be their 100% authentic selves with me.
I share with my scholars my pride in being Black. I’m proud of the way my people can overcome any situation. Since Africans were brought here, there has been a fight to simply be recognized as human beings. Black people have fought slavery and won. Black people have fought Jim Crow and won. Black people have fought segregation and won, and we’re still fighting to this day. However, Black people are winning every day. I constantly reflect on the strength of my people. I reflect on the richness of Black culture. I reflect on the beauty and diversity of Black skin. I reflect on how many things accomplished here in the western world would not have happened without contributions of Black people. These reflections keep me strong. These reflections push me to do my best and give my best to my scholars.
William and his family, present day.
What do I wish more people knew about Black culture? I wish they knew that being Black is more than what you see on television or hear in Hip-Hop music. I wish more people knew about the excellence of Black people, and realized that being Black is an experience someone can’t have unless they are actually Black. I also wish people knew and understood that the fight Black people fight daily is not just ours, it’s our nation’s. I wish more people wouldn’t feel guilty about the atrocities Black people faced but continued to become allies.
This month and always, we celebrate Black people and Black History. The United States of America continues to set the trends for our modern world. By recognizing and celebrating Black history, we as Black people open up opportunities for dialogue and personal interaction between many cultures. By recognizing and celebrating Black history, we as a nation can come together and celebrate all the great things to come, if and only if we can embrace the past while looking toward the future.