Today more than 400 Black role models will visit students at schools in 67 cities across 32 states as part of The HistoryMakers Back to School Day. This annual day of service will have entertainers and entrepreneurs speak with middle and high school students about their future.
This year, some of the people taking part include Tom Burrell, founder of the largest Black-owned marketing firm in the country, actor Lou Gossett Jr., Ernest Green of Little Rock Nine fame, author and chair of the Foundation for the National Archives, A’lelia Bundles, and many more.
“What we’re really wanting to do is…to start bringing this into schools. Kids are still struggling with role models, who to look up to, finding a path,” said Julieanne Richardson, founder and executive director of The HistoryMakers. “The program is way more impactful than I could have imagined, because what I didn’t understand at the time was that the schools could not reach out and touch the people that we were bringing in on their own. And they’re looking for things to motivate their students.”
On top of the speakers today, the organization unveiled that due to a $1.6 million grant, their digital archive of African American video collection will be donated to Chicago public schools, who want to use it for educational purposes. The archive includes over 2,000 hours of interviews from people like President Barack Obama, Julian Bond, and Diahann Carroll.
“Our digital archive is just groundbreaking, because at the click of fingertips, we’ll be able to put all this information in an online resource that the world has yet to see,” said Richardson. “We really want our digital archives in every school in the United States because there’s so little known about the Black experience. We are in a time now where we still hear ‘Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer,’ as if no other Black people existed.”
“The digital archive is good for language arts, social studies, STEM – we have 211 of the nation’s top scientists on the digital archive,” she said. “One of the schools was using it to teach vocabulary in context. At another school, a drama teacher was using it to teach accents.”
The HistoryMakers are now in the 16th year and the back to school program is in its 6th year, but it doesn’t just stop working after the one day visit. Relationships and mentorships are forged with students and the schools.
“[Journalist] John X. Miller in North Carolina has been going back to the school every month,” Richardson said. “Our HistoryMakers have actually helped fund schools or students. One of our scientists took one of the kids under mentorship, and now that young man is going to be going to college.”