The classroom doors decorated by Philadelphia teachers and students for Black History Month are both art and antidote.
And when you consider the poison that’s pervaded the month meant to recognize and honor black culture and history, you’ll understand why.
A nauseating recap:
Esquire magazine choosing this month, of all months, to debut a tone-deaf cover story about the “struggles” of a white teenager.
An Alabama newspaper publisher calling for the return of the KKK in a Feb. 14 editorial.
Burberry sending a noose hoodie down the runway at London Fashion Week.
And, oh look, just as I started to write this column, Chicago police reporting that Empire actor Jussie Smollett allegedly staged his own hate crime.
Worst Black History Month EVER, declared the internet — and the shortest month of the year isn’t even over yet.
Which brings me back to those doors. From California to New York, teachers have straight-up revolutionized the use of construction paper and whatever other supplies they had on hand to honor black heroes, from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the #TakeAKnee movement in protest of police brutality and racial injustices, to Mae Carol Jemison, the first African American woman in space.
While teachers have been sharing their creations on social media all month, one of the first (and best) that I noticed was an homage to legendary Supremes lead vocalist Diana Ross at Ludlow School in North Philly.
The whole school is in the midst of a pretty competitive Black History Month door challenge — and there are plenty of contenders — but “ain’t no mountain high enough” that could have kept me from visiting Patrice Bertotto (@Mrs308) after she tweeted out, "Our Black History Month door is truly ‘Supreme!' ”
And if anyone (Me, OK, it was me) wonders if her young charges are old enough to know who Ross is, Naomi Haynes, 14, and Jetsabel Mangual, 13, quiet the doubters quick by singing a couple of lines of another of her hits, “I’m Coming Out.”
Haynes and Mangual worked hard to capture Ross’ essence — but oh, the hair, the rolls and rolls of black construction-paper hair, would, I think, make the black pioneer swoon. As would the reason why Bertotto chose to honor her.
“I just feel like she’s somebody who’s not always credited with being part of the civil rights movement,” said Bertotto when I stopped by the school this week. “She brought black music into white homes, and she created a greater acceptance of American black culture during that time.”
She is, the veteran English Language Arts teacher said, a great way for students to talk about issues that are as relevant today as they were decades before her students were born.
At Parkway West in West Philly, teacher Myra Evans took a slightly different approach. You might not recognize the adorable portrait of a young black woman on her classroom door, but that was by design. It could be anyone. She not only wants her students to learn about great cultural and historical figures; she also wants them to view themselves as greatness in the making.
In a city where only about 24 percent of its district teachers are black, representation matters as much as aspiration.
“I feel like we’re not seen enough,” Evans said. “And so when the students walk through my door, I want them to know that I see them.”
Oh, Evans has followed the news that has mired this month. So has Bertotto and her students, who routinely have smart, spirited conversations about the state of the world.
But for the most part, at least for this month, Evans has chosen to leave the world’s negativity outside her door. Her gloriously decorated classroom door.
And for that, and so many other doors that speak to what this month should really be about, we should be thankful.
Happy Black History Month, everyone.