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Florida Schools Can’t Teach Black History, So Churches Are Starting To

Florida Schools Can’t Teach Black History, So Churches Are Starting To

To counter Florida’s recent education changes that misrepresent or omit African American history in public school curriculum, Black pastors and their congregations are teaching their own Black history courses, honoring their heritage.

One such church at the forefront of this initiative is Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, a historic institution in Liberty City, Miami. Led by Rev. Gaston Smith, this church has supported its predominantly Black neighborhood through turbulent times, from Jim Crow to the civil rights movement and recent racial justice protests.

“Whenever there has been any kind of movement, particularly in the African American community, it started in the house of God,” said Rev. Gaston Smith of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami. “We cannot be apathetic, we cannot sit back, we cannot be nonvocal. We have to stand our ground, because the Bible says we have to speak up for those that cannot speak up for themselves.”

Their resolve has garnered widespread support, with Faith in Florida, a nonprofit coalition of religious institutions, providing them with an 11-chapter toolkit filled with resources to teach Black history through “the lens of truth.” The toolkit includes videos, reading guides and books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, as well as Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

Over 200 faith leaders from various denominations have pledged to incorporate these teachings into their sermons, Sunday school classes and Bible study sessions, reaching both parents and children.

This initiative echoes the historical significance of Black churches in the struggle for civil rights and equal rights. These churches have long served as centers of community and activism, and they are reclaiming that role by teaching “raw and real” African American history.

The driving force behind this movement is the Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida, who was spurred into action by the passage of the controversial “Stop Woke Act” in 2022 and subsequent revisions to Black history education standards in the state. These changes pushed her to mobilize faith leaders to provide an accurate account of Black history.

“House Bill 7 passed where the teaching of African American History from our public school systems or universities was being jeopardized and threatened in a way of it not being taught in a truthful manner, but this watered-down version … that was just crazy,” Thomas said.

Since its launch, 290 congregations in Florida have registered to access the toolkit, with plans to enlist 500 churches in the state. Faith in Florida is now also exploring the possibility of developing a complete curriculum to enrich education further.

The initiative has even begun to move beyond churches and faith-based organizations. Individuals, educators and people of color in local communities are taking it upon themselves to organize banned book reading sessions and other educational initiatives. Additionally, Thomas shared that groups in other states have reached out asking for access to their curriculum.

“Once this toolkit went out, we also had churches that are led by white faith leaders and Muslims register to teach Black history,” Thomas said. “What stands out is that these states are just as concerned, because many times they know that whatever takes place in Florida, eventually it’s going to hit our states as well.”

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