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Denver students Jenelle Nangah, Dahni Austin, Alana Mitchell, and Kaliah Yizar are serving as student advisers for the Black History 365 curriculum.

The first time Dahni Austin held a copy of a new Black history textbook for which she and other Denver high school students will serve as advisers, she cried.

“There’s a page that says ‘Say Their Names,’ which I just think is so amazing,’” said Austin, a sophomore at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College high school in far northeast Denver. “They have a list of every single name of a person who has been through suffering or who has been through a traumatic event. I can’t stress how important this book is.”

Austin and three of her classmates — Jenelle Nangah, Alana Mitchell, and Kaliah Yizar — will serve on the Young Solutionists Student Advisory Board for an innovative new U.S. history curriculum called Black History 365 that begins in ancient Africa and goes up to modern day. 

The four students have been leading forces in pushing Denver Public Schools to diversify its curriculum. Their advocacy led the Denver school board to pass a resolution named after the students’ podcast, “Know Justice, Know Peace.” It mandates that all Denver schools teach “the historical and contemporary contributions of Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities.”

The students’ involvement with the Black History 365 curriculum is an opportunity to extend that push nationwide. As founders of the student advisory board, they said they hope to build the board to include at least 100 students from every state in the nation, as well as countries such as Canada, South Africa, and Ireland. 

One of the advisory board’s major goals? To get the Black History 365 curriculum into schools across the country and beyond.

“We all know that there’s a reason why very little people know true African American history,” said Nangah, a high school senior. “This was a predicament that was created by design, because people know and fear the power, strength, and resilience that lies within our people.

“We need a community of Black history champions, and that’s exactly what the spread of our history, through the Black History 365 student advisory board, will produce.”

The Black History 365 curriculum was written by Walter Milton, a career educator who formerly served as superintendent in Springfield, Illinois, and Joel Freeman, who became interested in Black history while working as a player development mentor for the NBA.

The high school textbook is currently available, with editions for younger grades coming soon. 

Weighing in at 5½ pounds, the textbook includes several elements its authors say set it apart, including more than 4,000 photographs from Freeman’s personal collection, as well as QR codes that students can scan to watch videos that connect to the lessons.

The curriculum also puts a special emphasis on music.

In conjunction with the textbook, Black History 365 released an album of 40 songs that connect to each of the chapters. It was produced by Kevin “Khao” Cates, who has worked with chart-topping artists including Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg. The Denver students are hosting a listening party on Feb. 26.

Their school, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College, has led the way in diversifying curriculum in Denver. 

Principal Kimberly Grayson said the school is planning to use Black History 365 next year — and not just as the basis for a separate Black history course. Grayson said her teachers are currently aligning the 40 chapters in the book with lessons taught across the broader curriculum from ninth through 12th grades. 

Grayson plans to share the finished product with the entire district so other Denver high schools can use it too — a goal not unlike what the students hope to do with the advisory board.

“We exist to give the Black youth of today’s civil rights movement a space to amplify their voice and make it matter,” Austin said. “We would like to show others that they are worthy, smart, resilient, and can do anything they put their minds to.”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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