Thursday, January 12, 2017

Black History Month and The Underground Railroad

I grew up in Texas in the 70's and 80's
same time, different place for me.
I was a black haired, brown eyed girl
who was half Hispanic and half Southern.
Life was good, very good...
but it wasn't perfect.
Every once in a while, I heard,
saw, and felt discrimination.
In fact, when I was young...
I actually spent about 6 months trying
to turn my brown eyes blue.
Sitting in front of my mirror
I concentrated and tried
to magically make it happen.
I'm stubborn, so I kept trying
and trying and trying. 
Luckily, I'm not crazy, so I stopped.
How sad that at even that age you 
figured out that you may be treated
if your eyes were another color.

Actually, if you want to know the truth...
we went to a family reunion
where I met a 4th cousin of mine
who could have been my twin
sister except she had straight, blonde hair
and blue eyes.  Everyone kept commenting
on how similar we looked.
They even made us stand side by side
so that they could compare our looks.
That's funny!
Genetics are a funny thing.
When we got in the car to leave,
my mother turned to me and said,
"Gina, you're actually much prettier
than she is...your dark hair and
eyes really stand out."
Oh the vanity of a young girl's heart.
I wonder how long that thought lasted.
Young girls' hearts are quite the fickle things you know.
Or...maybe my parents knew that
I was secretly trying to change
my eye color in my room.
Either way, what matters is that

....or so I thought...

After I grew up and had my second baby,
I had postpartum (not fun).
I didn't even really know what
that was...until it hit me.
I wanted a change,
and I wanted it right then.
I went to the hair salon
with the full intent
of chopping off all of my hair
(boy short) 
WHAT?!  I certainly
hope that when salons
see a big 'ole head of curly hair like
your's come in, they have a 
mandatory wait period before
they approve such lunacy!
and bleaching it blonde.  
I can't even imagine!
I had just seen a movie
with Geena Davis 
where she did that, and I thought....
Huh.  That's a pretty good idea.
Actually, my name would have been
Gina Davis 
after I got married,
but I didn't want my name 
to sound like the actress' name 
so I now use my full name.

Call me Regina.
It means queen.
Just so there's no misunderstanding.
You may curtsy while you're saying it.
Uh, seriously?!  

The people at the hair salon
took one look at  my long, black curls,
and actually kicked me out.
My faith in the salon industry remains!
Yup.  I got tossed out.
They refused to cut my hair short
and bleach it blonde.
They told me I was nuts.
Good for them!
So true.
I had postpartum.
But I'm not crazy,
so I listened and left my hair alone.

 I got blue contacts instead.

I walked around for about 2 months
with blue eyes, and then I tossed
the contacts away.
I decided that I am who I am
and I'm just glad that I have 2 eyes that work
and hair that covers my head.
And by the way, "Black Is Beautiful". 

And yes...just in case you're wondering...
King Common Sense stuck with me
through all of this.
He figured I had just
had another baby
which gave me the right
to be a little nutty.
After I threw the contacts out,
he just looked at me and said,
"Aren't you glad you didn't
cut and bleach your hair?"
Yes. I. Am!
Thank you ladies at the hair salon!

We now have 4 children.
3 of them were born with blue eyes.
Our oldest daughter still has blue eyes.
Both our boys had blue eyes until they
were about 7 when they changed to
a hazel green/gray (just like their dad).
 And our youngest has brown eyes.
She loves her brown eyes,
because we love her brown eyes.
She says, "I'm the ONLY one with brown eyes,
Mom...just like you!"
(with a great big smile on her face.)
In class, when I say, "Eyes on me"...
my students know that I love to see their eyes
looking at me, because I love
all the different colors of eyes in my classroom.
They know that my 4 children
have all the different colored eyes.
When they first find this out,
the kids at school are always amazed
that I could possibly be the mom
of four kids who have
blue, gray, green, and brown eyes.

Having felt discrimination,
it's very important to me that the children
in my class feel good about themselves regardless
of what color hair, eyes, or skin they have.
We spend so much time making a class community 
and building unity, that when I teach about 
Black History in February...I always make sure that my
students learn  an additional bit of history.

Soap Box Time
In the history of the WORLD,
slavery was not exclusively
experienced by African Americans.
Egyptians had slaves.
Romans had slaves.
Native Americans had slaves.
Other cultures and countries allowed slavery.
In our country, the slaves were from Africa.
During the time of the Romans, though,
anyone could have been a slave regardless
of the color of their hair, eyes, or skin.
Don't believe me?
Have you come across an episode
of Spartacus lately?
Not that my information is based on TV.
I do like my TV.....but...
I did minor in history.  
If people lost in battle,
they could have been enslaved.
My reasoning for incorporating this 
tidbit of history into
my teaching is simple.
When I was little,
and found out that some
people prefer blue eyes over brown,
it affected me.
Silly as it's true.

I think that when students learn
that some people's ancestors
crossed the ocean on the Mayflower,
while other people's ancestors
crossed the ocean in slave ships...
it just might have an affect
on their psyches.

I don't want ANY student
in my class to feel
less than the others.
We are all different...but we are all the same.
Colors don't matter...actions do.

I have been looking through Black History
and Underground Railroad materials for years.
It is easy to be misled with great historical fiction books.
The stories are intriguing, but not necessarily based on truth.
I suggest that teachers read through this great
little guide from Scholastic before planning
their lessons so that you can distinguish
between truths and myths.

 Scholastic:The Underground Railroad: Escape From Slavery
Myths Of The Underground Railroad

I wrote a short book that includes the idea that
many different people could have been enslaved
in the history of the world.
It talks about the Underground Railroad.
It also talks about
the North Star and how to find it.
It includes President Obama being
the first African American
President of the United States.  
Learning that First Lady, Michelle Obama,
is the descendant of slaves,
always makes my students gasp.
 Insert: You can do anything
you want to do, if you work hard
and try your best.
Anything is possible.
How awesome that they have 
this real example to pull from.
Black History & The Underground Railroad
by Regina Davis  
I am sharing this with all of our blog followers
for the first 48 hours of posting...enjoy!
A few years ago,
two little boys who were best friends
were sitting next to each other on the carpet.
They were sitting criss-cross, applesauce,
with each of them having an arm
around his friend's shoulder. 
One was a towhead blonde, and the other
was African American.  The blonde said,
"Hey, I could have been a slave in Rome,
and you could have been a slave here.
That's bad..that's REALLY bad."
The other boy looked at his best friend
and said, "Yeah, slavery's not a good thing.
I'm sure glad WE'RE not slaves!"
From the mouths of babes...
We're all different...yet the same.

 I compiled some pictures
of famous Americans for 
Black History Month.
I'm not finished with this,
but I'm setting it aside for now.
Perhaps I'll get back to it one year
at 3 am on an early, February morning.
You have to keep real people hours!
If and when I do...
I'll change it out.
Until then, it's super simple...
I just know that my kiddos like to see
real pictures of all of these amazing people.
These are compiled from the web,
and I'm not exactly sure who to credit....
it's not for profit, and for classroom use only:
 Harriet Tubman
  Sojourner Truth
Frederick Douglass
 Runaway Slaves
  Lanterns: I used these slides to show
my kids what real lanterns look like.
  Hiding spots found in Underground Railroad homes.
I used the following slides to show my students
the different places where people would hide.
  An African American Doll....I connect
this to the historical fiction story:
Almost To Freedom
  Garrett Morgan
  George Washington Carver
  Booker T. Washington
 Louis Armstrong
 Bessie she cool or what?
  Tuskegee Airmen....heroes of the skies!
These men make me tear up!
  Jackie Robinson
  Rosa Parks
I took my kids to the Rosa Parks Museum
in Montgomery, Alabama several years ago.
It was a great experience for them!
 Martin Luther King, Jr.

I also took them on a special
Martin Luther King, Jr. tour.
We rode around on a trolley as
we were shown places where he
made such an impact on our nation.
  Diana Ross
  Bernard Harris
  Mae Jamison
My kids always look at her
and are amazed that such a pretty lady
is an astronaut!
 Lonnie G. Johnson
Condoleezza Rice

The following are activities that
I have used in my classroom...
they can be found at my store
on Teachers Pay Teachers...
just click on the picture
if you are interested
in incorporating it in
your own classroom. 

 There is a great historical fiction story
based on a doll that the author saw at an
Underground Railroad museum.
This story is not based on fact,
but on possibilities.

Almost To Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
I  made African American dolls
that represent actual dolls that have
been found in Underground Railroad homes.
The boy doll is my own addition.
As far as I boy dolls have been
found, but I made them for my boy students.
Who, by the way, love the dolls just as
much as my girl students.

After reading the story,
we make our  dolls,
and we use yarn to tie them
around our waists,
just like the little girl
did in the story.
The boys are completely
on board for this with their little boy dolls
hanging off the sides of their waists.

African American Doll Craft
A+ African American Historical Doll Craft

 I love the Follow The Drinking Gourd
historical fiction story by Jeanette Winter
even though it is fiction.
It's a great story, but not necessarily a true one.

The Reading Rainbow does a nice job with this,
their "Follow The Drinking Gourd" episode can
be purchased on line....
but you do have to let your students know
that the song and the story are historical fiction.
Here is a song of it
that can be found on youtube:

I made a compare and contrast 
Venn Diagram and double bubble map
for students to compare Harriet Tubman
(a real person from history)
to Peg Leg Joe (a fictional character).

Harriet Tubman and Peg Leg Joe Venn Diagram

Harriet Tubman and Peg Leg Joe Double Bubble

Here are 2 S.T.E.M. activities to go with

the Underground Railroad.

Hiding Harriet

My students were given paper doll type
houses with a small, historical figure representing
Harriet Tubman.  Their job was to be able to keep
Harriet safe by hiding her in the Underground Railroad home. 
We had Harriet hiding  in attics,
chimneys, wardrobes, closets, and secret rooms.

Here is a quick language arts activity:
Underground Railroad Sentences: Fill In The Blank
A+ The Underground Railroad Sentences: Fill In The Blank
 In the second S.T.E.M. activity,
 my students created a lantern
 representing the lantern that was used
at one of the Underground Railroad homes.
John Rankin used a lantern to signal that it was
safe to cross the Ohio River and go to his home.

It was interesting to see who would choose
which S.T.E.M. activity.
At the end, we had our very own
Underground Railroad "museum".
We walked around the room
and enjoyed looking at everyone's creations.
It was funny to hear,
"Wait a minute,
where's your design plan?"
coming from one of my 6 year students
as they realized that their friend had forgotten
to place their design plan next to their creation.
You are quite the guru with STEM.
Just saying...

I had finished my Underground Railroad STEMS,
and I wanted another STEM...
 one that would have a lighter note.
That's when I found
Lonnie G. Johnson.
Hello sir! 
I had never heard
of his Super Shooter
until I was researching
what I could do for a 
good STEM activity
for Black History Month.
It's a  water gun that
is able to shoot water REALLY far.

Side Note: For Father's Day, my personal kiddos
wanted to have a major water gun battle with their dad.
So I actually purchased 5 different types of Super Shooters.
I specifically went looking for them at Target.
Wowzers! It's not a false advertisement....
these are by far the best water guns
we've ever had!  

Soooo.... since we're not allowed
to have any type of gun at school
....not finger guns...
...or sticks pretending to be a gun...
...or cheese bitten to look like a gun...
...much less water guns...
I made a S.T.E.M. activity for shooting snowballs.
WHAT?!  You live in Florida.
False advertising!!!
I correlated this activity with
Lonnie G. Johnson's Super Shooter
by telling my kids that snow is just frozen water.
Our Snowball Super Shooters
were in honor of
Lonnie G. Johnson--
American Inventor Extraordinaire.
  I hope your kids enjoy these activities.
I hope that YOU feel good about who YOU are
and all the children in your class
feel good about who THEY are.
It took me years to say:
I like my massive amounts
of curly, black hair.
I like my brown eyes.
I even like that
just a little bit
Uh, little?!

Let's just say that age has a certain way
of making you realize that you should
just be glad to be who you ARE.
After all,
we're above ground
and breathing.
Two things right there
to be grateful for...
Life is good.