Back when Andrea Evans attended Proviso East High School, she said her teachers never touched on black history.
“It was neglectful,” said Evans, who identifies as black and African-American.
It was only when she attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, did Evans enroll in her first African-American history class.
As an honors student at Proviso East, Evans was exposed to a variety of subjects at a high level. But she thinks there’s a specific reason why her teachers didn’t spend time on African-American history.
“I think you have to know it, in order to teach it…then you don’t teach it because teachers tend to teach what they know and what’s important to them,” Evans said.
Even in Evans’ own family, she and her two sisters and parents did not discuss their ancestors’ history, along with contemporary black issues.
Evans moved to Maywood when she was in the third grade from the West Side of Chicago. By that time her parents had separated.
Her father grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, served in World War II and, shortly after the war ended, he moved to Chicago. Evans regrets not talking with him about his upbringing in the rural South and as a black man in the military.
But there was one anecdote she remembers her father telling her and her sisters.
“He told us a little bit about his childhood, about, you know, being called a ‘boy,’ how he resisted it. My dad was six three, so he was tall, lanky, you know, good-looking guy and hated when white men called him a ‘boy,'” Evans said.
Her mother also dealt with racial discrimination.
“I remember my mom talking about the challenges of a black woman trying to get a mortgage in the 70’s when we moved to Maywood,” Evans said.
Although Evans did not live in the same racialized America her father dealt with when he moved to Chicago, she still noticed segregation in her own high school.
Despite Proviso East being majority black, Evans said her honors classes were full of white students.
“I was in the honors classes, so like in the American Studies class there were probably 60 students and maybe six of us were African-American…and where I saw most of my black peers happened to be in P.E.,” she said.
Evans went on to major in biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the same school her father attended and where he received a pharmacy degree, taking advantage of the newly released G.I. Bill, which helps veterans pay for college.
After graduating, Evans returned to Proviso East, where she taught general chemistry.
Now she holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Sciences. Evans is part of an effort in Illinois to get more minorities in the teaching field, and serves on the steering committee of the Illinois State Board of Education’s Diverse and Learner Ready Teachers committee.
Illinois is one of nine states in the country that was chosen to work on diversifying its teacher workforce.
“It really changes the landscape of education when you have a more diverse teacher workforce,” Evans said.
She can speak to this personally.
Although, Evans eventually entered the teaching field her initial interest was in the sciences. One teacher at Proviso East High School cemented her love of biology.
“My freshman year biology teacher, her name was Ms. Edwards. She was a black woman…when I had her as a biology teacher that sealed the deal for me…I said I’m going to major in biology,” Evans said.