Over the summer, Johnson City Schools brought staff, students and community members together to form the Committee for Equity. The group convened before the start of school to address diversity and ongoing challenges within the Johnson City Schools’ community. Those conversations led the group to develop a list of goals for the district. One of those items included the creation of an African American Studies Class at Science Hill.
“The inspiration for the class came from our committee’s work this past summer,” said Lee Patterson, who serves as Johnson City Schools’ Human Resource Director and oversaw the committee during the summer. “After receiving approval and inserting the class into the course catalog, we had to find the right teacher. We were very fortunate that Mr. Good was able to join our Science Hill staff.”
The elective class is only in its second semester, but with over 30 students signing up this school year, it appears that it has a bright future. Science Hill teacher, and alumni, C.J. Good is leading the class and noted that it has been an exciting experience.
“Creating this class has been eye-opening for me,” said Good, whose grandmother graduated from Langston High School, Johnson City’s black high school before integration in 1965. “I didn’t get the history growing up, so me actually looking into it and doing the research, it’s putting the world into a whole new perspective.”
The African American History class provides students with the ability to examine the lives and contributions of African Americans from the early 1600s through modern America.
Good said that helping to create the class was an eye-opening experience for him. While he used the Tennessee State Standards to guide the class, he also looked to see what college classes were incorporating in their discussions.
“The biggest thing for me is to stay unbiased and not give my opinion,” Good said. “Because everything we cover in this class is fact. We aren’t making any of this stuff up. That was really important to me because it’s not about me. It’s about shining light on people who have not been able to get their voices heard.”
Science Hill senior Jackqualine Sayee said that she was interested in the class when she heard the discussions start over the summer.
“This is my last year of high school and I wanted to take this class because, me being African-American, I know so little about my background,” Sayee said. “I feel like this class is really eye-opening and I get to learn about people who are like me.”
Science Hill junior Sarah Mohammed also noted that she wanted to learn more about black history in America. Mohammed said that she noticed gaps in her American history class that went from slavery to the civil rights movement and she wanted to know about the things that black Americans faced in-between.
“I wanted to take the class because I saw that there was a severe misunderstanding in how the black experience fits into the American experience,” Mohammed said. “We don’t get much of that in American History. I wanted to experience the highs and lows of black progression in America.”
Good begins the curriculum with the middle passage in the triangular slave trade. During the first semester of the class, they were able to cover the Civil Rights Movement and move into the 1970s. But the class also discusses recent events. Good said that with social media, students are more in-tune with different stories around the world. Often class discussions lead to more research for him and his students, which creates better discussion and perspective on events.
“Social media has kind of helped people tell stories and students are receptive to that type of thing now,” Good said.
The biggest thing Good wants people to take from the class is that it is another lens for history, and it isn’t only African Americans who take the class. He said it is a history class for all people, not just those of color.
“I think it’s important for all students, whether they are White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, to know what the history of black people in America,” Good said.