We need Kunta Kinte in the classroom


Sometimes it takes being punched in the face to understand someone’s life, story or history.

During the week of January 23-30 1997, we were knocked out cold on that fateful first night by a Gambian man who was born in 1750, enslaved and taken to America and who died in 1822; his name – Kunta Kinte. And to this day, Roots is considered the most important TV show ever to air.

It was the first time we were able to “see” what we only “saw” in textbooks. It was the first time we were able to connect the word slavery to an actual slave, which is especially helpful these days when teaching students about slavery. Students will be “amazed” to learn this is how the word African, in African-American came to be.

But wouldn’t we want our students to learn this as early as possible? I am a staunch advocate that you cannot teach “anti-racism” to anyone—let alone students—until they understand race.

I’ve never been a fan of “Months” in school. They all become a one-off as opposed to being part of school culture in terms of learning about culture and race. It seems like more of a check-off item.

Typically, Black History Month is observed through various activities and lessons in school and almost always distributing passages written by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and perhaps Maya Angelou, too. But there is a reality still missing.

Needless to say, visual teaching is much more powerful than any other method. Again, most times images are much more powerful than the printed word.

When trying to teach about the Holocaust, it’s much easier to show the bodies of those who were gassed or used for experiments than trying to teach about the reason behind human extermination.

There are so many. We have the photos of blacks being beaten, blasted by fire hoses and attacked by dogs. They are great pictures and historical at best. But honestly, did it cause us to think about the horrific thinking which caused a place in history for pictures to be taken?

What did horrify us was watching Kunta Kinte given the “choice” between being castrated or having the front of his right foot cut off. He “chooses” the foot, and one of the men brings down his axe on it.

The scene was written with the intention of getting across the very real horrors inflicted upon people by the institution of slavery. And it works. It is a horrifying scene that I’m sure stayed with everyone who saw it for many years afterwards.

2020 will always live in our minds and hearts as a year of anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Our children are witnessing and experiencing events like the pandemic and a raised awareness of racial inequity we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.

We are experiencing a decline of empathy and a crisis of connection. Many have claimed that the impact of ROOTS on Americans, both black and white would be felt for decades.

In a 1997 review, Time Magazine felt whites would develop a more empathetic view of blacks and a greater of appreciation of black history. Has it? – Who knows.

However, it is a time of reckoning. At least for students, bring Kunta Kinte into the classroom. And I’m not talking about for Career Day.

This would be the beginning of conversations which if not had at a young age in school will ruin yet another opportunity to help our children create a more aware, more just, kinder world.

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, Founder of The Student Success Project and Think Factory Consulting. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or email at ritchie@thinkfactory.com and on Facebook and You Tube as The Student Success Project.

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