Project WORD by Debra

Project WORD (which stands for Working on Redefining Our Destiny) is a cultural enrichment class for African American students created by Debra Watkins, a longtime San Jose educator and current executive director of A Black Education Network, formerly called the California Alliance of African American Educators.

“Black history should not be just a one-month event,” says Robinson, a member of the East Side Teachers Association. “It’s part of American history. You can’t separate these things. In most schools, our history begins in America with slavery. But we were people before we were slaves.”

While Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are the most recognized leaders in the struggle for civil rights, Robinson makes a point to teach students about lesser known leaders and events in black history, including Huey Newton and the Black Panther Movement, human rights activist Malcolm X, the Harlem Renaissance of art and music that led to the Roaring ’20s, historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, botanist and scientist George Washington Carver, and renowned mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, whose mathematical genius was key in the design and development of the nation’s capital. History, she explains, is broader than a few individuals.

Students also discuss what Robinson describes as “black history in the making,” such as the Black Lives Matter movement and athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, both forms of protest to raise awareness of African Americans who have been gunned down in the streets of America in record numbers.

“We discuss our responsibility as African Americans in terms of patriotism, when in many ways we are being dishonored as citizens,” says Robinson. “We discuss the need to remain conscious and vigilant of who we are and what we are doing as events continue to evolve, so we understand what is going on in our world. The theme for this year is ‘Stay Woke.’ ”

Best of all, the class communicates to black students that they are valued yearlong, and Project WORD builds a strong sense of community that has contributed to students’ academic success.

“This class helps me to better understand what it means to be black,” explains senior Melissa Perry. “I’m black and Mexican, and I had no black friends. But through this class I’ve learned more about my other half, and I’m proud of who I am.”

“We discuss our responsibility as African Americans in terms of patriotism, when in many ways we are being dishonored as citizens,” says Robinson. “We discuss the need to remain conscious and vigilant of who we are and what we are doing as events continue to evolve, so we understand what is going on in our world. The theme for this year is ‘Stay Woke.’ ”

Best of all, the class communicates to black students that they are valued yearlong, and Project WORD builds a strong sense of community that has contributed to students’ academic success.

“This class helps me to better understand what it means to be black,” explains senior Melissa Perry. “I’m black and Mexican, and I had no black friends. But through this class I’ve learned more about my other half, and I’m proud of who I am.”

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