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From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: STEAM + The Black Experience
"As the civil rights struggle widened into a national liberation struggle, many activists began looking for political strategies that went beyond the integrationism of mainstream civil rights groups." Liberation School
Encourage students to explore this facet of black history with a curated Text Set featuring artists, inventors and scientists, culminating in an optional research project.
STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art + design, and math) is essentially about making things that change the world. Now more than ever, STEAM skills are crucial to advancing our society and solving the problems of the world. Inventors, architects, scientists, web developers, and many more professionals use STEAM skills every day.
Onesimus, was born in the late seventeenth century, probably in Africa, although the precise date and place of his birth are unknown. He first appears in the historical record in the diary of Cotton Mather, a prominent New England theologian and minister of Boston’s Old North Church. Reverend Mather notes in a diary entry for 13 December 1706 that members of his congregation purchased for him “a very likely Slave; a young Man who is a Negro of a promising aspect of temper” (Mather, vol. 1, 579). Mather named him Onesimus, after a biblical slave who escaped from his master, an early Christian named Philemon.
Hold Fast to Dreams by Freeman A. Hrabowski
Publication Date: 2015-05-05
Black people have made critical contributions to the STEAM field that shape our world. However, their path to STEAM education and achievement has been historically limited by systemic racism and oppression. For example, many slave owners stole the innovative ideas of enslaved black people, and got rich selling these ideas as their own. Despite this history, black people continue to push back against and rise above these challenges.
In this text set, students will meet many inspiring black people who are makers, creators, and innovators. Students will also learn about the darker history of oppression that makes the achievements of these folks all the more remarkable. At the end of the text set, students will complete a creative project that showcases their understanding of STEAM and the black experience.
Everything from a vacuum cleaner to the Internet exists because someone said, “How could I make something that would fix this problem?” This is innovation, and it’s been happening since the beginning of humankind.
To start innovating, all you need is a good idea. But to make your invention into reality, you need skills. Today, we call those skills STEAM skills – as you know, that refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art + Design, and Math. In this lesson, you’ll learn how kids today are developing STEAM skills to make things that change the world.
Everything from a vacuum cleaner to the Internet exists because someone said, “How could I make something that would fix this problem?” This is innovation, and it’s
been happening since the beginning of humankind.
In the last lesson, you worked on defining systemic racism and coming up with your own examples. In this lesson, you will extend your understanding of systemic racism by studying how it has affected black inventors. You’ll learn how black inventors pushed back against systemic racism, and how they made things that changed the world even while being discriminated against or enslaved.
Dr. Hadiyah Green recently won a $1 million grant related to an invention that might help treat cancer.
Detroit, Michigan, is a city that has experienced hard times. The city government does not have much money, and many people have left the city due to a lack of opportunity. However, even in difficult conditions, people continue to innovate and make art. In this lesson, you’ll learn how one remarkable artist used his imagination to find inspiration and healing for his community.
You may already know some things about the Black Lives Matter protest movement. (If not, you will learn about it in this lesson’s first article.) In any protest movement, art is essential for communicating a message of resistance. In this lesson, you will learn about how artists and activists today are using visual art to make a statement about Black Lives Matter.
Note: The article about Trayvon Martin is from March 2017. You may wish to discuss with students how the BLM movement has changed since the article was published.
STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art + design, and math) is essentially about making things that change the world. Black people have made critical contributions to the STEAM field that shape our world today.
Black people have always chronicled the lives of their families and communities through art. Woven through this art are the threads of spirit, joy, sorrow, anger, and resilience that make up black life.
Systemic racism has historically limited, and continues to limit, the opportunities black people have to participate in STEAM. However, black people continue to push back against and rise above these limitations.
Black people have a long history of making things that have changed the world. Did you know that George Washington Carver discovered more than 300 uses for peanuts? That’s amazing, but the history of black innovation goes far beyond that. In this lesson, you’ll read about black inventors you may or may not have heard of before who used STEAM skills to create incredible things. You’ll also learn about the racism many of them faced as they worked to bring their ideas to the public.
George Washington Carver (front row, middle) sits with other teachers and scientists at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which is now called Tuskegee University. The school was created to give African-Americans a high level of education and trade skills. Photo taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1902. From the Library of Congress
Although the system of American slavery has been dead since 1865, its legacy lives on. We can observe an example of this in our education system. Black people are consistently denied access to quality education. In this lesson, you’ll learn about an inspirational group of black women who overcame oppressive odds to achieve great things in STEAM.
Tiny Dillard University in New Orleans is one of the smallest historically black colleges (HBCUs) in the U.S. The college is proud of a huge accomplishment: pound for pound, it graduates more physics majors — and, notably, more female physics majors — than far bigger schools with more resources. With an enrollment of 1,200, Dillard ranks second in the country in black physics undergrads.
A young girl holds a sign at a protest against police violence in Boston, Massachusetts, April 29, 2015.
Graduates hold up their hands during a commencement ceremony at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, May 13, 2017. Dillard graduates more physics majors - and more female physics majors - than bigger schools with more resources.
Akilah is a 10th grader at a high school in Washington, D.C. She is the contest's first winner from Washington. Before, the contest was not open to students in the District of Columbia. Only students attending schools in the states could enter.
Akilah Johnson, a sophomore at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., won the "Doodle 4 Google" contest with her entry "My Afrocentric Life," pictured above.
Digital links to the images in Part 2 of the lesson linked below:
The packet includes an overview and intro to the unit, activities for each step of the pathway, and a culminating project. Use the information below to learn more about how to use the packet with your class.
You probably already know what racism is: It happens when people in power discriminate against the less powerful because of the color of their skin. And you may also know that it affects the lives of people of color all over the world. However, systemic racism is a little trickier to understand. In this lesson, you’ll learn that racism doesn’t just happen from person to person. Whole systems – like schools, businesses and governments – can be racist. Once you understand systemic racism, you will be able to apply it to the rest of the lessons in this Unit.
If you want to learn more about a culture or time period, it’s essential to study the art that goes with it. By looking at paintings, sculptures, graffiti and more, we can learn about the perspective of a particular artist. We can also learn a lot about the time when he or she lived. In this lesson, you’ll consider your own reactions to works of art, then choose an artist to research more closely.
This painting, 'Migration,' is from 1947. In the painting, Lawrence uses light and dark colors and sharp angles. He does not show what they really looked like. But he does show how people felt. Photo: Sharon Mollerus/Flickr.
Paul Revere Williams was an architect in Los Angeles. He created thousands of buildings. He was the first African-American to join the American Institute of Architects, or AIA. This is the group of the most respected architects in America. Williams helped shape the style of Los Angeles buildings. Los Angeles is a mix of many styles. Some buildings look like old Spanish mansions. Others look like they're from the future.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a gritty, street-smart graffiti artist in New York City who successfully crossed over to the international art gallery circuit. In a few years, Basquiat swiftly rose to become one of the most celebrated, and possibly most commercially exploited, painters of the Neo-Expressionism art movement.
Kara Walker succeeded in shocking the art world of the 1990s with her wall-sized cut paper silhouettes. At first, the figures seem to hearken back to an earlier, simpler time, until we notice the horrifying content: nightmarish vignettes illustrating the history of the American South. Drawn from sources ranging from slave testimonials to historical novels, Walker's work features brutal stereotypes in a host of situations that are frequently violent and sexual. At first, audiences condemned her work as obscenely offensive, and the art world was divided about what to do. Was this a step backward or forward for racial politics? Several decades later, Walker continues to challenge her audience and demand that we examine the origins of racial inequality in ways that rise above black and white.
For further information about the women who founded Black Lives Matter. In 2013, three radical Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter. It was in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman.
The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. Our members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
Recommended Paired Texts
Chapter Books / Longer Reads
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly
Who Was George Washington Carver?, by Jim Gigliotti
Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions & How They Came to Be, by Charlotte Foltz Jones
125 Cool Inventions: Supersmart Machines and Wacky Gadgets You Never Knew You Wanted! by National Geographic Kids
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Javanka Steptoe
Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty
Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington
Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton and Don Tate