Recently, 500 African-American trailblazers descended upon classrooms in 107 cities and 34 states (including Puerto Rico) as part of the 2nd Annual Back-to-School with the HistoryMakers program. Among the trailblazers were senior advisor to the President of the United States Valerie B. Jarrett, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, entertainer and author Common, activist and talk show host the Rev. Al Sharpton, singer/actress Melba Moore, poet Nikki Giovanni, actress Marla Gibbs, poet/author Sonia Sanchez and author/filmmaker Antwone Fisher.
The one-day program is designed to bring renewed attention to the needs of the nation’s educational system and its students. This second year produced even better results than the first, says HistoryMakers founder and executive director Julieanna Richardson. “The response was fantastic the first year. It was what was hoped for. We had almost 200 of our HistoryMakers go to schools in 25 states and 50 cities, all on one day,” says Richardson. “This year, we had 500 of our HistoryMakers go back to school in 117 cities, 35 states including Puerto Rico. On a scale of 1-5, 95% of the participants gave us a 5 rating. The teachers and students were so appreciative and the HistoryMakers felt that they were making a difference.”
The trailblazer talked to the students about their own school experiences and the struggles they encountered on their paths to success. The theme of the day was “COMMIT,” and the goal of the program is to put Black leaders in direct contact with young people. Last year, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien spoke with former mayor of New York David Dinkins at the Harlem Children’s Zone.
For the second year, various organizations teamed up with HistoryMakers, including The Faison Firehouse Respect Project, DC-CAP, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, the National Education Association, the Arnold Family Foundation, the Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link, Inc., the Fernbank Science Center, the Alabama Departments of Education and Archives and History and the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum. Comcast, the Chicago Tribune and TheRoot.com signed on as media partners, with Comcast contributing between $250,000 and $500,000 in public service announcement (PSA) support.
The nation’s largest African-American video oral history archive, the HistoryMakers consists of 2,000 video-taped personal histories (8,000 hours) of both well-known and unsung African-Americans. It includes the oldest living Black cowboy, Alonzo Pettie, co-founder of Colorado’s first Black rodeo.
“The HistoryMakers are picked at the time that we interview them. They include President Barack Obama, General Colin Powell, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, Dionne Warwick, but also unsung leaders like the oldest living Black cowboy. The oldest is 113 and the youngest is 29,” says Richardson.
Next year, the HistoryMakers will again descend on schools across the country. “Our purpose is to make this an annual program and grow it and its impact,” says Richardson. “We believe that we have an actual movement starting.”