Dear Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran:
First, congrats on the gig. As you are by now aware, the job of education commissioner is far more than a title, paycheck and political steppingstone after eight years in the Florida Legislature. Your work – the decisions you make, the policies you push — impacts an estimated 2.7 million youngsters in Florida’s public schools and another 1.3 million students fortunate enough to attend Florida’s colleges and universities. It is a huge responsibility.
It is my hope to call your attention to a topic that can, if done right, inspire our elementary, middle and high school students – Black History Month. Mr. Corcoran, the month is far more than a politicallycorrect contrivance. It remains an opportunity to educate and inform students about our state’s rich history, a subject we often overlook.
Fortunately, your office has the resources to make the month of February resonate in our schools – the Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force. According to the task force’s website, there is a dated task force members’ list, and the last annual meeting occurred in 2017. If there were ever a time to brush the dust off this group and promote it to the point of relevance with your fellow Floridians, it’s now.
Floridians might not know that the task force is supposed to recommend steps state education officials like yourself can do to adopt appropriate instructional materials and build partnerships to promote black history. They should, since the historic achievements of black Floridians are really our state’s history. That fact should be celebrated.
Florida’s history is unique. The first Underground Railroad ran south. Long before the heralded exploits of Harriet Tubman, runaway slaves saw the Spanish territory of La Florida as a bastion of freedom. The Spanish offered sanctuary in St. Augustine to those fleeing the tyranny of English slavery in the Carolinas. That early settlement is now the Fort Mose Historic State Park, a nationally recognized historic landmark.
Mary McLeod Bethune is another Florida history standout. Her reach extended well beyond the Sunshine State, and her relentless pursuit of educating black youngsters sparked a new school that would become Bethune Cookman University. Last year, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a law to place a statue of Bethune in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Imagine what your task force could do with promoting Bethune’s story.
There are more contributions, of course. Take Harry T. Moore, a Brevard County educator and civil rights martyr who founded the first Florida branch of the NAACP, and led a movement that increased black voter registration to 31 percent between 1944 and 1950 – the highest of any southern state at the time. A. Philip Randolph, a noted labor leader, founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Composer and educator James Weldon Johnson both were native Floridians whose contributions shaped the America we know today.
I’m aware that as our state’s education commissioner, you face many challenges – poorly funded public schools, school security, the rising cost of higher education and the need for better technical training opportunities, to name just a few. These issues may seem more pressing, but consider how important Florida’s history is to our overall identity.
The point I’m trying to make is that the contributions of African Americans to our state and our nation are far too crucial to be lost to state government bureaucracy. Floridians need to know who they really are. So, let’s make a little history this month. As education commissioner, revitalize your African American History Task Force and make its work relevant again.
A Concerned Columnist