Does anyone know who Justin Dart was?

The Black History course just completed its first lap around the D209 curriculum. Dart was not Black, but I will reference him later in the piece to give perspective on the importance of a stand-alone course focusing on African Americans.

When I interviewed D209 administrators a few years ago, the consensus was that a required-for-graduation course on Black history was not necessary, because Black history and culture had already been integrated into American History and English Literature courses.

But that, argued D209 board member Rodney Alexander and PTMAN Chairman Reginald Saffo, was not enough. Hispanics brought with them their religion, language and culture when they crossed the Rio Grande and headed north.

When Africans were brought here in the Middle Passage, all of that was taken away, with lasting effects to this day. That’s why, Alexander and Saffo argued, a course on Black history not only needs to be taught at Proviso East but should be required for graduation, even though Hispanics now comprise the majority at the school. According to the Illinois Report Card from the 2019-2020 school year, about 59% of District 209 students are Latino, 36% are Black and 2% are white. 

That is also why Supt. James Henderson made getting a required Black history course into the high school curriculum a top priority when he became the D209 superintendent about two years ago. To that end he assembled a group including professionals, community leaders, ministers from PTMAN, and people like Barbara Cole, founder of the Maywood Youth Mentoring Program.

After exploring options the group recommended adoption of a program called BH365.

I have a Master of Arts in Teaching degree and in a former life taught social studies for three years. In my judgment, the Black history course with its textbook BH365 is a good one. I sat in a classroom where the course was being taught and the students were engaged.

I am a member of a minority cohort, the disability community, which comprises 12.7% of this country’s population under 65. If you include old codgers like me, you’re talking about one in four.

I’ll bet a hundred dollars that you didn’t know who Justin Dart was. He’s the equivalent of Dr. King in the disability rights movement. Talk about a victimized minority. Talk about an under-told story.

When you talk about a victimized group, it’s easy to get into a “one-downsmanship” exchange. Who was treated worse? Blacks, people with disabilities, women, Native Americans, LGBTQ+, Italians, Irish, Jews all experienced discrimination. Some assimilated because they were considered white. Although I’m white, my blue walker and slurred speech make it impossible for me to “pass” as being “normal.”             

What I’m advocating is not pity from anyone, and I’m not pushing for separate courses on all of the above. I don’t mind the course Black History course as a temporary affirmative action tactic. I took a Negro History course at Tuskegee Institute in 1968 and found it helpful.

But my goal is integration. I suppose you can argue that integration is impossible until equity is achieved, but I don’t want to wait that long.

I think Dr. Nicole Howard and the other D209 administrators who had already integrated Black history and culture in the district’s American History and English literature classes were pursuing a better way forward.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was never pictured in a wheelchair. Seventy years later, we have no problem watching Tammy Duckworth wheel around the capitol.

“Implementing a full course,” wrote Bishop Saffo to Dr. Howard, “would cast a light on our [Black] experience in this nation and explain the complexities of how we survived and made great strides against all odds. Moreover, we and all students would benefit from the lessons that would emerge from our history. Ours is an American story of triumph over tragedy.”

Amen, Dr. Saffo, and so would courses on persons with disabilities, women, Natives, and LGBTQ, in addition to all the STEM courses, competence in which is necessary for scoring above average on achievement exams.

I for one don’t want the spotlight shining on me. What I want is to be part of the group picture. 

The Chamber of Commerce here lets me lead the prayer at the monthly luncheon even though they have to work a little harder to understand my slurred speech. They encourage me to do it, not because I’m special but simply because I’m part of the team.