Who comes to mind when you think of black history? Slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., or baseball great Jackie Robinson? It’s likely that 80 per cent of students would only default to these two names.
This ignorance is what motivated Mary Fears, a school librarian, to team up with director Tyrone Young to produce Filling the Gap, a movie that literally fills the gaps of African-American history.
“Almost everything in this movie is left out of school textbooks,” said Fears, a storyteller and Civil War re-enactor who focuses primarily on the contributions of black Americans.
Such figures featured in the movie include Benjamin Banneker, a self-taught astronomer, mathematician and clockmaker who was part of the team hired in 1791 to design the layout of Washington, D.C., and Benjamin Bradley, who designed a steam engine for a warship. Unable to get a patent for his invention because he was a slave, Bradley sold the design for $1,000 and purchased his freedom.
Incorporated into the curriculum by a number of school districts, the film is changing the way schools teach black history – incorporating it in all subjects throughout the year, not just in February’s Black History Month.
“I never heard of all the people who were there,” said Logan Kuszik, a 10-year-old Florida school student. The film highlights blacks who were inventors, craftsmen, authors and supporters of the Union army. “I think it really does fill a gap. If everybody were to watch it, they would learn about black Americans.”
But is it worthwhile for Canadian schools to incorporate it into their curriculum? David Calder, a father of two from Ontario, thinks so. “Get it out to the schools! A piece of history that must be told,” Calder says.
Schools or families can purchase the film for personal or curriculum use online at www.essenceofhistory.com. With your purchase, Young, the director, may also make an appearance at a select number of Canadian schools. Ask him to visit your school.
[Written with excerpts from The News-Journal Corporation article by Linda Trimble. www.news-journalonline.com]