We cannot underestimate the impact of what storyteller Anne Shimojima calls “looking into the mirror of life and never seeing your own reflection.”

In this video “Taming the Fire“, story artist Sheila Arnold describes her teenage discovery of African American History. Luckily for Sheila, she had a teacher who understood Sheila’s anger at not learning about her heritage. Her teacher appreciated Sheila’s passionate and rightful desire for the truth and was able to transform that energy into inspiration for herself and all of her students.

Sometimes, those of us who are not identified as African American, think of Black History in terms of when Americans of African descent got the right to vote or sit at a lunch counter. The obstacles faced were so much deeper and wider than that and included: the right to know your name, the right to know your family, the right to hold office, the right to be in the military, the right to sign contracts, the right to buy homes, the right to enter most professions, the right to read, the right to go to school, the right to medical care, the right to refuse sterilization, the right to give evidence against a white man, the right to live without constant threat of physical harm and death to you and your loved ones and on and on. The fact that in spite of all this danger, disrespect and discrimination African Americans made contributions in every field of American life is a true testament to the human spirit.

In order to survive and even thrive under this constant onslaught to their humanity African Americans were able to lean on the gifts from their African cultures as well as develop a unique African American culture that is nurturing, strong and varied. Each African American child deserves to know about the beauty and struggle from which they come and all American students need to understand and appreciate how the United States is as democratic and as true to its ideals as it is because of African Americans.