The Root of Many

Celebrating the Rich Heritage from the African Diaspora

Marcia Davis, OFLA Secondary Language Learning and Diversity Committee Chair
World Language Middle School, Columbus City Schools

February marks the celebration of Black History Month. This celebration was the brainchild of  Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” and was founded the second week in February in 1926 as Negro History Week. Dr. Woodson chose February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The purpose of Negro History Week was to highlight the achievements and contributions of Black Americans because Dr. Woodson wanted to ensure that people were aware of the Black experience and its contributions to the overall society. In 1976, Negro History Week became the month long celebration we now know as Black History Month.

People of African descent have been present throughout the Americas for centuries, most notably, due to the transatlantic slave trade that brought millions of Africans to the Americas, for the sake of economic and political growth. Unfortunately, slavery was not a new experience and it was a despicable and horrendous act upon every group which experienced it and its effects.

If there is a bright side to such a great travesty in our history, it would be the richness of language and culture that enslaved Africans brought with them to the Americas, much of which is still seen today through their descendants. This richness can be described as the “root of many,” because the continent of Africa has contributed richly to many languages and cultures, including Portuguese, French and Spanish.

Did you know it is estimated that over 9 million Africans were enslaved in Brazil, the Caribbean, Central and South America as compared to fewer than 500,000 in the United States of America? 

As language educators, we have an opportunity to infuse our curriculum with the beauty of language and cultural contributions made by people of African ancestry throughout the Americas and the world. Ohio’s Learning Standards for World Language and Culture can guide our lesson design in this area. For example, the Interpretive Intercultural Communication benchmark at the Novice High level states that the learner will, “Identify the topic and basic related information from simple sentences.” An example of a lesson idea could use a reading or video in the target language about elements of that language’s African cultural experiences. Here are a few resources that could be launching points:

There is a wealth of resources about foods, music, traditions, and language. This February and throughout the school year, I challenge you to explore the unique contributions and achievements made by those of African heritage in the languages you teach.

The Black experience is not limited to discussions about slavery and injustice. Those conversations have a place, as do conversations about the richness of culture and experiences that can be explored through the languages that we teach all year long. The African Diaspora is an important part of our world and one that holds a valuable place in language learning.

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