Brain Brawl Challenges Students on Black History

By Mattson, Marcia | The Florida Times Union, February 18, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Brain Brawl Challenges Students on Black History

Mattson, Marcia, The Florida Times Union

Byline: Marcia Mattson, Times-Union staff writer

Students charged the air with excitement in Spring Park Elementary's library as they called out answers to questions about black history.

The fifth- and sixth-graders were practicing for Saturday's African-American History Brain Brawl. Teams from 15 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools will compete to answer the most questions correctly and claim a sizable trophy.

Carol Davis, the event's coordinator, listened to the kids from a few tables away and recalled how school was very different for her.

Davis, a fifth-grade teacher at Spring Park, grew up in Jacksonville and attended schools filled with black children. But "surprisingly enough, they didn't teach much about about black history," said Davis, who is 50.

Then she went off to college in Seattle. Taking courses on black sociology and black history, Davis learned for the first time about black historical figures who'd made significant contributions to math, science and politics.

"I was surprised that black folks accomplished a lot of the things they did," Davis said.

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black female presidential candidate, particularly impressed Davis, who remembers going out and buying Chisholm's book.

Davis has continued to collect her own materials and, in her 23 years as an educator, has shared them with students. The hallway around her classroom at Spring Park is decorated with the portraits of accomplished black Americans.

She hasn't let the fact that school textbooks have only in recent years incorporated information about black history and civil rights hinder her students' historical knowledge.

"I've been teaching African-American history ever since I've been teaching," she said.

Most of the kids listen raptly and are surprised to learn about events such as Rosa Parks' refusal to sit at the back of a bus as black people were made to do during segregation.

"Some kids would never think things like that happened," Davis said. "To me, it wasn't that long ago because I lived through it."

Davis remembers, for instance, Jacksonville's segregated theater business. Certain theaters were for whites only, others were for blacks only. Davis said she became the first black female to work at the Florida Theatre when she took a job in the ticket booth in the early 1970s.

The brain brawl is, for Davis, another way to teach students about black history.

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