Black History Month 2022

A Forward by Carlton Oliver, Director of Leadership and Equity at the Melrose Center

In 1926, the second week of February was designated Black History Week. This week included the birthdays of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two significant influences on Black life according to its founder Dr. Carter G. Woodson.
Dr. Woodson's goal for that week was to emphasize and highlight the many contributions made by Black Americans that were regularly ignored and marginalized in larger American society.

Today, Black History Week has grown into a month-long celebration with individuals, culture, and community well highlighted. Unfortunately, many Black-American inventors are still largely unknown. I want to highlight a few (and their contributions) whom many are unaware. 


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Earlier this month, Oasis led Breck’s Upper School Chapel. The Upper School affinity group members reflected over the past calendar year and shared important events and themes month by month. They guided the Upper School through a powerful presentation that gave their peers and teachers a glimpse of the breadth and width of the Black experience and a vision of the world they want to build.

Dr. Troy Baker | Upper School Director

Although we see February as an opportunity to really celebrate Black History, I would challenge all of us to view Black History as American History. In all of the stories that we tell about the history of this country, Black people are present. Black American have fought in every war in this country starting in the revolutionary war. So, when we talk about World War II and Vietnam, that is also Black History. Though it is pushed to the forefront in February, I would just challenge all of us to look at the other 11 months of the year to really understand that the Black experience is inextricably tied to every aspect of this country's history.

Black Affinity Groups at Breck

Oasis | Upper School

Led by Sydney M. '23, Cori T. '23, and Will W. '23

"The Black Affinity Group, OASIS, is a group for Breck’s Black identifying high schoolers to spend time together in community. During OASIS we check in with one another, craft projects, and spend time talking about current events. As a group, we work to uplift Black students while highlighting all of our accomplishments. Being a Black student at Breck comes with its highs and lows, but when united we have electric energy and unwavering resilience."


Cove | MS Girls

Led by Kyndal W. '22, Loti G. '22 and Sydney M. '23

"Cove is an affinity group for black female students in grades 5-8 at Breck. It is a place where we can build community, have discussions, and talk about our experiences as black female students at Breck. Cove was started out of necessity to support black girls in Middle School as they navigate through the challenges, misogynoir, and hurtful experiences that we faced."

Lighthouse | MS Boys

Led by Daniel S. '22, Jai T. '22, and Will W. '23

"Lighthouse is an affinity group and a mentoring space for grade 7-9 black male students. We created Lighthouse to support, guide, and also learn with younger students as we navigate being black students in a PWI. As Upper School student leaders of Lighthouse, we aim to empower students, have fun together, and connect as a community."

Breck students in the Haven Group make posters

Haven | Lower School

Led by Ms. Sheila Willson

Haven was created to give students another special space to grow and develop their identities, self-awareness, and empower each other to advocate and take action with people who have shared identities. These students and their families expressed a strong desire and need to have a space where they are welcome to be their full selves, without having to explain their experiences in a way that makes them feel that they have to convince others. Haven is a space where they are believed, their experiences are validated, and they are welcomed however they are.

Interviews Continued

Head of School | Dr. Natalia Rico Hernández

What does Black history mean to you?

Many people say, “Black history is American history” and I believe that is true. Having said that, it’s important to add that Black history hasn’t been included in the history textbooks of our country and so that statement on its own is insufficient. To me, Black history is the deliberate documentation and articulation of the experiences and contributions of Black Americans in the creation and ongoing development of the United States of America. 
Are there any particular contributions or achievements made by Black Americans that you wish to highlight? Anyone who inspires you and why? 
As an educator, several names stand out to me. People like Booker T. Washington, Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass and WEB Dubois, are important figures to my field. One person who especially stands out to me is Mary McLeod Bethune. I only learned about Ms. Bethune’s contributions to civil and women’s rights and education in my doctoral program long after I graduated from high school, undergrad, and my master’s program. As a result, Mary McLeod Bethune represents to me the significant lack of representation in my own formal education. I remember being astonished and saddened that I had never heard of her, or in fact, any Black women in education. Most importantly, though, her work in education is what inspires me. She began as a teacher when she opened a Black boarding school for girls at the start of the 20th century and culminated in higher education when her school became Bethune-Cookman College in the 1940’s.  Her vision and action earned her the role of advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt. She was relentless and her accomplishments impacted many.

Kimberly Wilson '77

Kimberly Wilson is a producer, actor, and singer. She has many accomplishments in theatre, television, and radio, and Breck is honored to have her present her original one-woman musical show "A Journey" in the Cargill Theater to Grade 9-10 students at her Alma Mater.

Marlin Jenkins | US English Teacher

What does Black history mean to you?

This is a difficult question to answer! I'm reminded of poet Jericho Brown's response when asked, "What's African American about African American poetry?": "African Americans write it." Similarly, history involving Black people is so vast and varied, good and bad, proud and shameful, that it's hard to talk about as a whole and pin down as one thing with specificity. There are common themes: resilience, for example. Or how artistic expression is central to how culture is created. But I guess what it boils down to for me is simply: Black people have been around; people have done things to us but more importantly we've done things.

Witherspoon Family | Kamau, Crystal, Kyndal '22, Camille '24, Grayson '30

This is our fifth year at Breck. When we started at Breck, our family was immediately embraced by this school community in a way we had never experienced. The faculty have challenged our kids and helped create an environment where they enjoy school. We have had so many good experiences here and are touched by how intentionally the school works to build community among students and families.

At Breck, Kamau is on the Board of Trustees and Crystal has served as the Parents Association President-Elect, New Family Host, Grade Level Representative, Classroom Ambassador, and Admissions Office Volunteer.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is an opportunity for everyone to recognize the contributions of Black Americans to our shared society and see full richness of the Black experience to be on display. In our home, we honor the legacy of our ancestors, embrace our history and enjoy the fullness of black culture every day.  

Were you able to see the US Chapel put on by the Oasis Affinity Group? If so, what did that chapel mean to you?

I was able to attend the Oasis Affinity Group US Chapel in February and I was immensely proud of the students in Oasis. Each student eloquently shared their idea of Black Excellence. They spoke with passion, and their message was relevant to every student. A couple times, I said Amen out loud. I appreciate Breck for having spaces for students to share why they love black culture. I also deeply appreciated the respectfulness and attention that every student in the chapel gave their classmates. It is important that these opportunities for students to share continue. The more we understand about each other, the more we can appreciate how much we are all truly the same. 

What do you think Breck should be doing to celebrate Black history and Black History Month? 

I think Breck does a beautiful job of honoring and highlighting Black history and Black culture during January and February. The MLK All School Chapel, MLK Symposium, Sweet Potato Comfort Pie volunteer activity, and LS/MS read-along are all amazing expressions of Breck's commitment that lead into Black History Month. The efforts we have seen are more than any school our kids have attended. What I would love to see, in addition to what is already happening, is for Breck to lean more into Black History Month as a time to celebrate and build community among Black families.