By Elise Lieberman, All Our Kin intern
During Black History Month, we celebrate the work of our amazing family child care providers, many of them women of color doing one of the most important jobs there is: educating our youngest children. At All Our Kin, we know that these caregivers often don’t get the respect they deserve; we seek to honor the work of these unsung heroes who touch thousands of children and families every day, laying the foundations for a more just and equitable society.
Black women have been and continue to be instrumental in building and shaping our country. Among the diverse contributions made by black women to history, this Black History Month we particularly want to highlight black women educators whose work has transformed the lives of women and children. Join us in celebrating these phenomenal women.
Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was an African-American journalist, suffragist, and civil-rights campaigner. Born into slavery in 1862, Wells was not only an influential activist – a leader in the early Civil Rights Movement and an instrumental anti-lynching pioneer whose writings spread across the globe – but a teacher in a black elementary school. Wells – educating audiences worldwide through journalism and activism as well as black children at a local level – was a true model of All Our Kin’s mission: that children, regardless of where they live, their racial or ethnic background, or how much money their parents earn, will begin their lives with all the advantages, tools, and experiences that we, as a society, are capable of giving them.
Shirley Ann Jackson
Born in 1946, Shirley Ann Jackson enrolled in MIT after excelling in science and mathematics in high school. One of only 20 black undergrads at MIT, and the only black student studying theoretical physics, she soon became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT and the second African-American woman to have earned a doctorate in physics in the United States. Jackson’s commitment to education lead to a distinguished and multifaceted career of “firsts” in academia, government, industry, and research. She was named one of the 50 most important women in science in 2002, and would become the first woman and the first African-American to chair the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the first African-American woman to lead a national research university. Along the way, Jackson, like Wells, has pushed for educational equity, leading efforts to increase the numbers of minorities and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Born in in 1910, Pauli Murray was a scholar, lawyer, and activist. Upon moving to New York to attend Hunter College in 1926, Murray became involved in the civil rights movement. In addition to leading campaigns to end segregation on public transportation, Murray, like Wells and Jackson, fought for educational equity – beginning with herself. Her 1938 campaign to enroll in the all white University of North Carolina rose to national prominence and led to a lifelong friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Murray then enrolled in law school, where she was both the only woman and first in her class. Upon graduation, Murray’s extensive activism and prominent essays and poems lead to appointments to serve on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Civil and Political Rights. Murray also became the first African American to earn a doctorate of jurisprudence at Yale, where a residential college now holds her name. Murray never stopped learning; after a lifetime of activism, she entered General Theological seminary and became the first African American woman Episcopal priest at the age of 67. While most famous for her work in the public sphere, Murray also worked as a literacy teacher for adults who had never learned to read. Murray’s life of activism and education are an example for All Our Kin’s work at the local, state, and national levels.
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So often, the stories and contributions of black women remain untold and unsung. The life and work of Wells, Jackson, and Murray are three examples among many. At All Our Kin, we want to both recognize the achievements of these incredible women and inspire a new generation of black girls to follow in their footsteps or, like so many before them, to blaze their own path.
That is why this Black History Month, our focus is on not just the past, but the future: how do we ensure that today’s children of color, beginning in their earliest years, have the tools they need to thrive? One way is to ensure that black and brown children see themselves represented in literature, in positive and inspiring ways. We want to share this book list from “A Mighty Girl,” which recommends 50 books about extraordinary black girls and women. The stories of these girls and women – activists, poets, singers, doctors, teachers, painters, chefs, astronauts, mothers – span hundreds of years. All, however, share one thing: black girls and women who followed their own dreams in the face of everything society told them they could not be and do.
And, of course, among these trailblazing women belong our own providers, who are working to change the life chances of our youngest children, creating a more equitable future for the next generation. We celebrate these women during Black History month and every day.