A veteran educator with over 19 years of experience as a public school teacher, assistant principal and educational consultant, Joseph Edelin, M.Ed. is more than aware of the shortcomings of US curricula. He has dedicated his career to ensuring that Black and Brown students are given the tools they need to secure their own freedom through instruction that allows them to see themselves in their education. He has created two much-needed educational workbooks that help fill in the gap left by the education system.
Edelin founded Project Ujima in 2019 to provide culturally relevant and responsive content to districts, schools, and teachers, in the form of workshops, resources, coaching, and curricula. In addition to creating this content, he authored Through Our Own Eyes: A Journey Into African American History and Through Our Own Eyes: A Celebration of Black Women in History. Both educational workbooks are for parents and educators of middle and high-school-aged children who seek to teach their kids about the amazing contributions and achievements of African and African-American people.
“As an educator, I always strove to make my classroom as welcoming, fun and relevant to my students as possible,” Edelin says. “However, early on in my teaching career, I became frustrated with the social studies curriculum I was expected to teach to my mostly Black middle school students. Not only did it lack the inclusion of the contributions and accomplishments made to global history and society by people of African descent, but it also included content that fostered notions of white supremacy and perceived dominance. This was unacceptable to me, so I began creating my own curriculum and resources for my students.”
As he progressed in his teaching career, Edelin encountered other teachers and parents who were experiencing the same frustrations, but either did not know where to start or where to find the resources they needed to ensure that their children learned the truth about who they were and where they came from. It was this larger need that prompted him to create curricula for schools and educational workbooks for educators that helped them incorporate African-American history in their students' educational experience that starts before slavery and includes more than the same notable civil rights activists.
“I wanted to make my books a one-stop shop for educators to be able to teach their students the truth about their history, so I wrote easy-to-read articles that were paired with reading comprehension questions, as well as hands-on activities and scannable QR codes that led to educational video links about each topic,"continues Edelin. "Our history is amazing, and it should be just as easy to access as anyone else's.”
Through Our Own Eyes: A Journey Into African American History begins with ancient African history and its empires and civilizations before moving into the institution of slavery which disrupted many of those empires. Through Our Own Eyes: A Celebration of Black Women in History details the lives and accomplishments of amazing Black women throughout several different areas of society, including ancient history, civil rights, STEM, business, politics, sports and the arts.
When Black children are taught the true history of their ancestors, they learn of the legacy of greatness that existed in African civilizations long before slavery. They realize that, contrary to what much of the world would lead them to believe, excellence is embedded in their DNA and courses through their veins. This opens up new avenues of possibilities for children and gives them much to aspire to.
“Simultaneously, these stories relegate all people of color, but specifically people of African descent, to the status of cultural and historical phenomena, having materialized in this world with no background, accomplishments or civilization of any kind,” explains Edelin. “Marcus Garvey tells us that ‘A people without history is like a tree without roots.’ How can we expect our children to grow and flourish if they don't have anything from their history to aspire to?”
For parents and teachers seeking a starting point for teaching their children Black history, Edelin says educating yourself is a great way to begin.
“Unfortunately, we have all been miseducated by the same system, so as adults, many of us don't know the history ourselves. We have to do our own research, read and watch videos, so we can obtain the information and pass it on to our children," adds the educator. "From there, try to find ways to make it relevant to the things they care about and the events that are unfolding in their everyday lives.”