The Kentucky Derby conjures up images of large hats, funny suits and galas for those who are in the upper echelon of economic status in America. Each year, tens of thousands flock to the biggest and most prestigious horse track in the world by many estimates. However, the history and systemic racism that has helped build most of these institutions often goes overlooked. Now, more than ever, it is important to showcase black excellence.
TURNING TO MY COMMUNITY AS AN INFLUENCE
When I moved to Louisville, KY in 2014 after exiting the military, I had no idea how much my life would change. Transitioning from a soldier to a teacher was not an easy task. However, I was introduced to Ryan New, JCPS Social Studies Instructional Lead who mentored and guided me through the inquiry process. Moreover, teaching at the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, a school designed to teach through an Afrocentric lens allows me to tackle issues that directly affect our student’s community. Our mission is to engage, eliminate barriers, and empower each young man to achieve excellence. The design of this lesson was inspired directly from the events of our community.
We must “Say her name” …. Breonna Taylor is a chant that has rocked Louisville since March 13, 2020. Although the media has put out several stories regarding the accounts of that night, it has been the people of Louisville that have kept her name alive. They have marched and peacefully protested that the true story of Breonna Taylor is told. Teaching truth is not always easy but something that is much needed. Seeing the injustice and how the narrative around this event, and many others, were spun around, I was inspired to write an inquiry which refocuses the narrative of our lives and history on all the ways black lives have endowed our society and made it was it is today. So that, like Mrs. Taylor, those who came before may not ever be erased from the lens of American history.
SITTING DOWN TO WRITE
When I went to write this lesson, I approached it using inquiry. Anyone who goes to Churchill Downs can learn about black jockeys and all their accomplishments. However, what I needed to do was go deeper into the origins of not just horse racing but the care of them as well. How did I accomplish this? I turned to the most inquisitive people I know, my students!
I asked one particular student to create a slide with only pictures displaying what he thought of the Kentucky Derby. Money, family, diversity, traffic, and racism were the pictures he found. When asked why racism, he explained how he knew about the black jockeys but not how they got there. And in that moment the inquiry was born. How did the Blacks become jockeys?
With many inquiry research-based questions, I start at the end of the story and work backwards. In order to show a timeline of the movement but where we were in society at that time. What was the jockey before he was a jockey? Well he was a new freeman because of the 13th amendment. Before then he was a slave that worked with horses on plantations. However, before the jockey became a slave, he was a free man in Africa riding horses on caravans. I learned very quickly the Kentucky Derby didn’t birth a jockey, but Africa birthed the jockey. Using Dr. Largarett King’s Black Historical Consciousness Principals and IDM the lesson came alive.
TACKLING THE HARD ISSUES
Inquiry allowed me to understand the how and the why of the Kentucky Derby. More importantly, it allowed me to address the needs and wants of my students. As tension rises in our country, social studies cannot be afraid to tackle hard issues. Our students want to learn more and understand how we made it to this point. They also want to know more about their stories and how people that look like them added to the story of America. Moreover, they desire to be the change we teach about. Inquiry can appear to be intimidating at first glance. However, I encourage all teachers to take the leap and try it. In the words of the great Maya Angelou “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”