February is Black History Month. LAUSD has made it mandatory for all schools in its district to acknowledge the contribution that African Americans have made to the history of this country.
Usually when a teacher tells a class that we are beginning an unit on African American history, there will be that one kid who will stand up and say, but what about Latino history, or Chinese history?
Ms. Bridges of Hale Charter Academy has come up with a novel way to introduce African American History to not only her students but to all the students in the school, without any groups feeling they are being left out.
Ms. Bridges has selected a genre of music in chronological order, from earliest Gospel Singing, Classical Jazz, Old School Rap, Hip Hop to Popular Rock N’ Roll. Each week she plays some of that music over the public school system during lunch. Before playing the music, she announces who the main composer will be and briefly talks of his/her contribution to music.
Gospel singing was a favorite among slaves who could not read and write but whose strong voices and harmonious tunes could be used to pass secret messages like where and when the freedom train would be coming. Sharing such tidbits of history make the music more meaningful, whilst indirectly sharing an important historical fact.
Teenagers are mostly familiar with Gangster Rap that they attribute as being largely African American music. Gangster Rap, unlike Old School Rap has no messages of hope. Old School Rap was mostly poetry with a moral message that was sung to music. Its messages extolled the listener to be real, to stay in school and be an upstanding citizen. Messages that we want to get across to our kids.
In compiling what music to play, her class students help her to do research. Most students have heard of Louis Armstrong, Michael Jackson, but she introduces students to music from Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Cartis Blow and the Boogie Down Crew to name just a few.
Ms. Bridges talked of how music binds all students of all ethnicity. “No matter what ethnicity, or religion, when working together to compile the music, they became stronger friends…music was an avenue to see that they are not that different from one another,” said Mrs. Bridges.
As the students eat luch, the music playing overhead, their toes begin tapping. No one notices, or cares less what color the toes are that are tapping to the cool rythms of African American music.