With the raging debates surrounding critical race theory and efforts to remove noteworthy pieces of literature penned by Black authors from school bookshelves, the absence of truthful and authentic African American narratives from curriculums across the country have prompted many parents to step up and fill in the gap when it comes to educating children about the fullness of Black history. Amongst those is author and educator Andrea Stephenson who is using literature as an avenue to show youngsters of color that they come from a lineage of excellence.
A study conducted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Oberg Research revealed merely 9 percent of time in history classes throughout the U.S. is allocated to highlighting Black history. Further research illustrated some schools omit covering the topic at all. For Stephenson, teaching her children about Black innovators who have contributed to shaping the landscape of American history was an intentional decision early on. Now, she’s set out on a mission to empower others to do the same through her latest book Our-Story Black History for Kids: Scientists.
While growing up in a small community nestled in the heart of Jacksonville, North Carolina, Stephenson rarely ever saw herself reflected in her school’s textbooks and lessons. Learning about Black History was a seasonal affair. Beyond fleetingly covering the journeys of changemakers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, the opportunity to learn about other pivotal Black pioneers was almost non-existent in the classroom.
It wasn’t until she was 9 years old that she learned about the vastness of Black excellence through a program her older brother and sister-in-law founded dubbed Our Story 101. Led by Davidson College’s Black Student Coalition, the six-week program was designed to teach children about the history and contributions of visionaries within the African Diaspora.
It was in that program where she learned about luminaries like former NASA astronaut Mae C. Jemison, three-way traffic light inventor Garrett Morgan and Jan Matzeliger who revolutionized the footwear industry. “It gave me confidence when I went back to school,” she told NewsOne. “To see and learn about people who looked like me who have invented things that have changed the world was eye-opening.” The program also put the focus on the fundamentals of entrepreneurship; teaching youth about the ins and outs of creating their own products and running a business.
Carrying the legacy of education, Stephenson—who homeschools her children—wanted to ensure she cultivated and curated a similar culturally-competent learning environment for her kids. She found inspiration in books like Lessons from History: A Celebration in Blackness and Raising Black Boys penned by Jawanza Kunjufu. She also peered through the pages of the Handbook for Raising Black Children: A Comprehensive Holistic Guide by Llaila Afrika to inform the foundation she would lay for educating her children.
“I made the decision to teach my children about Black History at home when my son was born,” said Stephenson. “We started with bedtime stories about Black History and then went into hands-on experiments. With Benjamin Banneker who invented the clock, we made our own clock. With Mae Jemison, who was the first Black woman in space, we made a rocket; all to help him remember the information that I was teaching him.”
Stephenson’s mother encouraged her to step into the realm of literature and pen books that would help parents instruct their children about a plethora of topics at home.
Hesitant at first, she gave it a shot and five books later, she released Our-Story Black History for Kids: Scientists. The book—which she co-authored with her six-year-old son Corban—celebrates the legacies of 12 Black trailblazing scientists. It also encompasses over 50 interactive projects designed to teach kids about different elements of STEM; some of which can be found on her son’s YouTube channel Corban’s Fun Learning Adventures.
Stephenson says she wants the book to ignite an interest in science, technology, engineering and math amongst youth. “Science is the way our world works and because our world is moving so fast with technology and engineering, people who are well-versed in STEM are going to lead.” She also hopes the stories within the book helps youngsters develop a strong sense of self-efficacy; using the monumental contributions of Black inventors from the past as guiding lights to shape the future.
Stephenson believes taking a holistic approach to education is imperative. “For kids to remember something, they have to experience it,” she shared. “Some kids are visual learners, some are auditory, some are kinesthetic. When you do activities like science experiments you are incorporating all of those learning styles.” She hopes to continue to create books that will educate, inspire and empower youth.