Town hall to discuss Florida’s new Black history standards coming to Miami Gardens

Miami Herald | By C. Isaiah Smalls | July 26, 2023

Pastor Arthur Jackson was hesitant.

The thought of hosting a town hall that could possibly turn into a platform to peddle the same problematic rhetoric about African American history was very concerning. Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz will potentially be in attendance, something that might upset his congregation. Then the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church pastor realized the opportunity before him.

“There are some who don’t want him there,” Jackson said, “but you can’t fix what you can’t face.”

Florida State Senator Shevrin Jones (SD-34), Senator Rosalind Osgood (SD-32), and Miami-Dade School Board Vice Chair Steve Gallon III (District 1) intend to co-host a forum at 7 p.m. on Aug. 10 that will allow community members to voice their concerns about the changes to lessons about Black history. The town hall will be held at Antioch Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in Miami Gardens, Florida’s largest primarily Black city.

“My hope is that the commissioner will come with an open mind and open ears to actually hear the concerns of the people,” said Jones, a former educator who now serves as vice chair for the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Education. “Ultimately, they want the commissioner to go back to the drawing board to this work group and tell them to go rework these standards so that the wording in this is not offensive to Black people.”

Added Gallon: “These changes include language deemed offensive and in several instances determined to be factually inaccurate.They have caused widespread concern, confusion and educational chaos amongst parents, community members, educators, and students in our community, and quite frankly, throughout the state and nation.”

The key to this town hall, according to Jackson, is to “control the mic,” assuring that the “structure of the forum won’t be the commissioner espousing a particular rhetoric.” Osgood agreed.

“Our collective history is American History, and although our lived experiences are different, it is important that we value each other’s history,” Osgood said in a statement. A former member of the Broward County School Board, Osgood sits on the Florida Senate Education Pre K-12 Committee. “This moment is an opportunity for community members to ask questions and express their thoughts regarding these standards changes.”

This town hall comes after Florida’s Department of Education announced changes to the standards that govern the teaching of Black history. Among the updates were passages that suggested enslaved people benefited from their bondage, an equivocation between racial violence and Black Americans’ resistance as well as lessons about slavery around the world as if it to suggest “we were just another country that had slavery,” historian Marvin Dunn previously told the Miami Herald.

“It was the only system of slavery in the world in which the people who were enslaved were defined as property, were reduced to chattel property,” Dunn said of American slavery, taking issue with the department’s view of slavery.

As criticism mounted, Florida’s Education Department offered 16 examples of people they believe “benefited” from the skills they learned during their enslavement. The Tampa Bay Times, however, discovered roughly half of the 16 individuals were never enslaved.

“They just threw out a bunch of names to make it seem like something good came of” slavery, Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association teachers union, told the Tampa Bay Times. “The reality of it is, the facts don’t back up what they are saying.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has wielded his influence to attack Black history on multiple occasions over the past year. First it was the Stop WOKE act barring any teaching at the college level that would make certain groups of people feel uncomfortable. Then came his criticism of the AP African American Studies course which led the College Board to change the curriculum to leave out references to the Black Lives Matter movement and slavery reparations, among other topics. Most recently, his support of the new standards – including the passage about enslaved people personally benefiting from being considered chattel – and the ensuing uproar showcase a disconnect that the upcoming forum seeks to resolve.

“They need to hear the passion and voice of the community,” Jackson said.

If not, the consequences could be dire.

“You have the potential of raising an entire generation of young people who do not know who they are, who do not know the truth about their history and who will believe that they’re truly at fault for the condition of their ancestors,” Jones said. “That’s insane.”

The town hall will take place 7 p.m. on Aug. 10 Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 21311 NW 34th Ave., Miami Gardens.

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