Black History Month lacks enthusiasm, must improve diversity recognition

Of the 575 students that attend McNick, only two identify as black/African-American, or about 0.0035% of the student population. Identifying as some sort of mixed race/ethnicity are 13 students, or 0.023% of students. The total white student population at McNick is 92.5%, or 532 students.

While McNick is currently the most diverse it has ever been, we need to continue seeking diversity. The lack of diversity goes beyond just McNick, extending to all Catholic Schools. According to National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) statistics, the racial diversity of Catholic schools in 2017 was 20.7%. In secondary schools, NCEA reported that student population was only 8.7% black and 5.1% multiracial.

Public schools, by comparison, hosted 50% white student population as of fall 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and 16% black student population.

Because of this lack of diversity throughout Catholic schools, there should be an effort to take every opportunity available to celebrate diversity, heritage, and culture. Black History Month, occurring every February, seems like a time that should receive special attention.

“It’s such an important movement in our lives,” junior Sarah Snyder said. “[It’s] a really big advancement in our country and shouldn’t be forgotten.” Snyder is one of five children in her family, all of whom are adopted and African-American.

To celebrate Black History Month at McNick, the library arranged for local author Kareem Simpson to speak during both lunches on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Simpson spoke on the life of Margaret Garner, the inspiration for Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, who crossed the frozen Ohio River to Cincinnati in the mid-1800s to escape slavery. After being discovered, Garner killed her 2-year-old daughter to free her from a life of slavery. Read more on Simpson’s visit here. The library also prepared a Black History Month book display, and Black History Month poetry was posted on the poetry board in the English hallway.

Simpson’s visit to McNicholas was an admirable event to hold to celebrate Black History Month, along with the book display and poetry board. However, these are insufficient as the sole recognition. More effort needs to be put into celebrating heritage and culture.

“It’s respectful to recognize everybody and their differences,” Snyder said. “It’s important in the world today to see everybody’s different perspective and who they are.”

Celebrations for Black History Month should go beyond the mere remembrance of African slavery in America as well. While that aspect is certainly necessary to include, Black History Month should be a time of celebration for all the contributions of black Americans to American culture and society, including those still being made today. Snyder said that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are important civil rights activists to celebrate, but that there are more to honor and commemorate too. Overall, she said, there must be recognition for what black men and women have done for history.

This could be accomplished at McNick by hosting more guest speakers or holding an all-school assembly that focuses on Black History Month. More time could be devoted to studying African-Americans in history classes, or more activities could be sponsored during lunches throughout the month. A simple announcement could be made at the start of the month. On a larger scale, a fundraiser or service project could be held throughout the month to specifically help members of the black community.

Celebrating diversity isn’t just a problem at McNick. The majority of the U.S. struggles with fully appreciating the subject. Junior Hailey Bell spoke on how the U.S. mainly focuses on the needs and problems of the white majority community, placing differing groups of people into the “other” category. Bell’s family is from Jamaica. Her dad settled in Miami, then relocated to Cincinnati to start his own business. White people are prioritized, Bell said, “but in the U.S., everyone’s an immigrant, and everyone’s different.” If America’s identity is supposed to be rooted in the analogy of a ‘melting pot,’ then it shouldn’t be segregating different groups of people into the “other” category. In reality, all these groups of people in the U.S. fall into one category – Americans.

The problem of separating people into the “other” category is present at McNick as well. “There’s so few people that are [ethnically] different at McNick,” Bell said, that they get pushed into the “other” category.

To help strip this problem away, Bell suggested taking care to not call out people for being different, and focusing on academics and character at school instead. “[We] shouldn’t pinpoint different students for being different-looking or having different abilities,” Bell said.

While this focus on diversity has arisen as a result of Black History Month, it’s important to remember that there’s more than that. “We shouldn’t celebrate just because it’s the national month,” Bell said. Celebrations for culture, heritage, diversity, and representation should take place all year.

Theology teacher Teresa Davis agreed, saying that she works to incorporate diversity into her classes. “We try to bring about diversity through the Bible because Jesus was not bubbled up,” she said. “We are strong enough in Jesus to reach out to other people.” Davis said she and other teachers work to invite speakers throughout their courses and assign books and other assignments that portray and represent diversity. Davis said that part of Catholic living is reaching out to others and “opening our community to see the world, not our world.” She added, however, that there could always be more representation.

Snyder agreed, saying that McNick should celebrate diversity year-round, and that that could help McNick grow in its diversity. “Be more accepting of welcoming the black community into the school,” Snyder said. She added that McNick could be more diverse in their school advertisement. Celebrating diversity and culture year-round, then displaying that more wholly in school advertising should show that McNick wants to grow in its diversity and should help it obtain that goal.

According to Director of Marketing and Communications Shannon Kapp, portraying McNick’s diversity in its advertising means looking at the gender, age, and ethnicity of students in pictures, then trying to accurately portray the student body with them. Director of Admissions and Enrollment Christina Mullis added that this can be especially difficult because they strive to use candid picture whenever possible, rather than staged pictures. “We want students to feel its authentic,” Mullis said. “We do definitely try to be reflective [and] we want to increase our diversity,” but forcing diversity in pictures isn’t wanted, she said. She added that it can be hard to take diverse pictures when the diversity isn’t always present, and that they want to avoid overusing students as “token” diversity students in images. Kapp said that the goal of McNick’s advertising is reflecting the pride McNick has for its students and their many great accomplishments. She said marketing is a question of promoting what McNick has, or trying to attract what McNick doesn’t have yet. Mullis added that this involves striking a balance of promoting the diversity McNick does have without forcing or faking it.

Not forcing diversity in marketing photos is important, since it can be shown in other ways. Photos of students enjoying cultural activities that celebrate other heritages would show that McNick celebrates diversity. It would also show that McNick is working to represent other cultures to its student body. However, it’s difficult to take and use these pictures when these activities aren’t taking place as they should be, for example, during Black History Month.

McNick and Catholic schools especially need to work harder to celebrate all cultures throughout the school and throughout the year, as well as provide accurate representation. The first step in this is showing and proving that there’s a legitimate care about the issue.  “We have to genuinely care about it,” Snyder said. “[We should] genuinely mean it when we talk about it.”

“We’re all from different places and it’s forgotten a lot,” Bell said. “We should celebrate the fact that we’re all unique.”

kareem simpson
Local author Kareem Simpson visits McNicholas on Tuesday, Feb. 13, during both lunches. To celebrate Black History Month, Simpson spoke on Margaret Garner, the inspiration for Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, who killed her two-year-old daughter to keep her from slavery. While Simpson’s visit was an excellent event to hold in honor of Black History Month, it’s disappointing that it’s the only event taking place for the celebration at McNick.

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