A group of Bronx high school students have been participating in an educational summer program geared towards educating students about enslaved Africans in the Bronx and in New York City history.
The program – which aims to create a “more perfect Bronx history – is being funded by through the National Writing Project’s “Building a More Perfect Union”, a grant program for humanities organization part of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as well as the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance.
The program, which is running until Aug. 11, instructs students on the roles oppressed peoples played in US history where so often conversations and curricula regarding slavery is often simply relegated to education about the Civil War, which usually relieves the northern states of their own involvement in human enslavement.
The program focuses on the Enslaved People’s Project, which aims to educate people about the enslavement at the plantation that later became van Cortlandt Park.
“The history of slavery and the lives of enslaved people in New York is relatively unknown. Schools don’t teach this local history to youth in the Bronx as a means of connecting them to Bronx history,” said Jane Kehoe-Higgins, Director of the New York City Writing Project and author of the “Building a More Perfect Union” grant in a statement Aug. 11. “As I’ve worked on this project, the history we’ve learned almost feels like gossip; ‘Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe inherited an enslaved young woman and sold her to increase his personal wealth?’ ‘Did you know about the Black history of Wall Street?’ ‘Did you know….?’”
The program sees students learn how to use primary source documents, conduct interviews, act as docents and develop assets for the Enslaved People’s Project. All of which are incredibly valuable not only to the community at large, but also to the students themselves who learn about the history of their own neighborhoods.
“This is hidden history,” Taida Barnett, a student participant said, “People deserve to know it, especially in the Bronx. What people went through—many are our ancestors—this needs to be known.”
The emphasis on how crucial this curriculum is was stressed by other educators involved with the program who believe that by learning about the history of oppression and oppressed peoples that have been stifled or erased completely from school history curriculum, the students are not only paying homage to the individuals they learn about but are also honoring Black history itself.
“This program is critical because it uplifts Black New York City history that is erased from the New York educational system,” said Olga Segura, one of the program’s instructors. “I’ve lived in the Bronx almost all my life and my involvement in this program is the first time I’ve learned about the enslavement of Black people here, including the enslaved women and men who built and sustained van Cortlandt Park.”
The sentiment was echoed by participant Sydney Brunett who said that “there is so much we have missed in this history. There is so much to unpack. Once we find one thing there is another. It’s a domino effect.”