Andrew Jackson of the Langston Hughes Library in Corona told a story that both bemused and stunned the audience at Monday night’s meeting of the Community Council of the NYPD’s 113th Precinct in Jamaica.
“I recently had a student ask me ‘Why do we have a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday because he had a dream? Everybody dreams,’” Jackson said. “When I am asked if we still need Black History Month, I say yes!”
Jackson was the featured speaker on Monday night. The council has a Black History Month presentation every year at its February meeting.
He said Langston Hughes, named for the prolific black journalist and author, has the largest collection of Black History material in New York State.
Jackson also teaches black history at York College, and said as far as the formal recognition has brought the subject matter to the public’s attention, he also has felt disappointment in recent years.
“A few years ago my schedule was full of talks like this,” he said. “This year I’m only doing about three.”
He also expressed disappointment that some schools have begun to incorporate black history under multicultural studies umbrellas, many of which he has found lacking in their ability to impart the breadth and depth of black history to African-American students.
He said he has met black students who have never heard of famed singer, actor and political activist Paul Robeson.
“They know about Martin Luther King and think he was the civil rights movement,” he said. “He was the spokesman. But there were hundreds of thousands of people who were the movement. You and I are what this was about. They don’t know the importance of the churches, the only place where people could meet and be safe and be honest.”
He then referred to some college students sitting in the front row.
“Students their age might remember that Nelson Mandela was once the president of South Africa,” he said.
He also lamented that February, already the shortest month, this week has its annual winter recess for schools.
“That leaves three weeks,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to stop leaving the teaching of our history to the Department of Education.”
He said all parents present have a number of tools at their disposal for teaching some history to their children.
“There are five movies out in the last six months that everyone here should see, that you should take your children to see,” he said.
The films include the Oscar-nominated “12 Years a Slave” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”; “The Butler,” the true account of the man who served in the White House under several presidents; “Fruitvale Station,” an account of the fatal 2009 shooting of an unarmed 22-year-old black man by a police officer on an Oakland train station platform; and “Black Nativity,” a family Christmas story.
“Those movies are history,” Jackson said. “‘Fruitvale Station’ is modern history. This is our responsibility as parents. Sit down and discuss it with [your children].”