The middle and high school history curriculum in the US does little to address black history and culture outside of offering a unit on slavery or the civil rights movement. And because they can’t see themselves in it, many African American students encounter obstacles when it comes to truly connecting with the material and developing a love of history. The Junior Scholars Program aims to rectify this deficit by inviting up to 100 students each school year to the iconic Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture where "everyday is black history month" and has been for the last eighty years.
Founded by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg as the Negro Literature, History and Prints Division of the 135th Street Branch Library, the center has since positioned itself as one of the leading cultural institutions in the world housing over 10 million artifacts that preserve, celebrate, and invite inquiry into African American life, the African Diaspora, and African experiences. But what’s most impressive is the access granted to the general public.
As education coordinator, Kadiatou Tubman insists, you don’t have to be a scholar or a professor to access the archives; you can be an ordinary person with a question and the desire to learn more about yourself and where you came from. This offer extends to even the youngest community members through the Junior Scholars Program, a weekly Saturday program open to youth ages 11 through 18 from a variety of backgrounds, interests, and experiences.
Using Eddie Glaude’s work Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul as a launchpad this year, students engage in challenging conversations with their peers and mentors surrounding democracy and its implications for the African American community. These questions and conversations are supplemented by film screenings, cultural arts performances, educational tours of historical and cultural sites, lectures and seminars featuring prominent voices in African American and African studies, and, of course, hours spent thumbing through the archives.
At the Schomburg Center, the past very much informs the present and lives on through the research and inquiry of its young visitors. Performing on the same stage that was once graced by Harry Belafonte and Eartha Kitt or walking across the colorful cosmogram where writer and activist Langston Hughes is laid to rest, young students are made to feel part of a continuum; carriers of and contributors to a proud legacy.
Students follow what interests them most and translate their findings and feelings into comic books, spoken word, theater, clothing construction, and media making to be unveiled at an entirely student-led Youth Summit for friends, family, and the Harlem Community.