Learning from history promotes self-esteem and positive identity, which studies have shown can foster a greater interest in learning and higher academic achievement among African American students.

All youth struggle with their identities during their adolescent years. However, African Americans are faced with added social character challenges, such as having to deal with the notion that society doesn’t think they can become high achievers. There are also significant, proven inequalities that come from being black. This creates a pressure and identity as an underdog that can seriously affect an adolescent’s development of healthy self-esteem. Many adolescents and young adults are left to deal with a sense of hopelessness and failure before they can even begin to explore the world and what it has to offer.

According to McDonald (2007), it’s important that African American students disregard this idea of cynicism and find self-empowerment. Knowledge of their history, which was taken from them during slavery, must be made available, as this knowledge sets up a framework for a positive self-image and identity. Ultimately, knowledge of one’s history can teach students that they can achieve and overcome adversity as their ancestors did before them.

Recent data gathered by the University of San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) reports a rise of 9% in hate crimes in 2018. Reports reached a high for the decade with 2,009 incidents across 30 U.S. cities in 2019. 

Racial identity can impact the self-esteem of a child both while they are developing and throughout their lifetimes. Swanson, Cunningham, Youngblood II, and Spencer discussed the fact that children who were taught at a young age about their racial identity were less likely to feel a difference between their personal and group identity.

History can help us understand what is going on in the world, gain knowledge about ourselves and others, inspire change, reveal the best ways to be good citizens, and help us make better decisions. It can also help to prevent the repetition of past mistakes.

Harper (1977) points to evidence-based research that African American children who understand their history are more engaged in the educational process and contribute more. On average, they have have greater school morale and perform better academically.

Given this research and the obvious problems we are currently experiencing with the high drop-out rates of African American males especially, this should be an incentive for every educator to embrace the opportunity to educate themselves on African American history so they can be fully prepared and equipped with accurate stories of African Americans and their contributions throughout history.

Based on a nationwide study of teachers by the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), who implemented an African American curriculum, teachers are interested in teaching the complexities of African American history and going beyond a simple social studies curriculum.

Harper stated, “Traditional curriculum forces the black student to alienate himself and to psychologically or physically drop out of the regular school curriculum, thus many times seeking to satisfy his needs in unhealthy ways that can often victimize himself and others.” (1977)

As educators and parents, we are unable to deny the fact that African Americans in our urban areas are continuing to drop out of the educational system at an alarming rate. As a nation that prides itself on being one of the greatest in the world, we can do much better. We are failing African American children at a staggering rate.

This drop-out and failure rate phenomenon only worsens the crime rates in our communities, as affected children are left with few opportunities. They often find themselves forced into gang violence, drug trafficking and other societal ills that tax our resources, which are critically needed for improving our nation’s infrastructure. The only individuals who benefit from this system of failure are the owners of prisons. The lack of serious and deliberate attention to this problem is creating a society that is in the business of producing young people who are uneducated and unable to make their communities better economically, politically, and educationally.
According to McDonald (2007), “It is important for young African Americans to deny ideas of defeatism and embody ideas of empowerment.” He goes on to say that African Americans must not only have knowledge of their history, but must also have pride in their culture and legacy.
He further mentions that this knowledge and pride sets the framework for a healthy identity that will teach individuals that they can achieve and excel in the face of obstacles, just as their forefathers did before them.
Colon (1984) points to the lower academic performance of black males in relation to the longstanding subordinate status to which they have been relegated for hundreds of years.
Colon (1984) further states that young African Americans must be proud of their African legacy and history. They should have knowledge about it, as this knowledge establishes the framework for a cultural identity that is positive. This cultural identity will enhance their thinking and teach them to achieve great things, despite the color of their skin, just like their ancestors before them.
The poor academic performance of black males is associated to their limited perceptions of opportunities in life as a result of a longstanding subordinate status in America (Lancer, 2002, p.268).
Moore & Ford concluded that multicultural education makes learning relevant to all students, providing a positive cultural identity. They also concluded that gifted students who displayed worse performance than expected often had an association with a dominant Euro-centric curriculum.
Multicultural education offers students the opportunity to learn about their history. This opportunity will enhance learning and increase relevance for all students. It will also begin to develop positive cultural identity in students of color (Moore & Ford, 2005).
As such, Black Studies serves three major functions: (1) Corrective -the distortions and fallacies surrounding and projected against blacks for elitist racial and cultural supremacist purposes are countered with factual knowledge and critical historical interpretation; (2) Descriptive – the past and present events that constitute the black experience are accurately documented; and (3) Prescriptive – concepts, theories, programs, and movements toward the alleviation or resolution of group problems faced by blacks are generated and promoted.
Black Studies has been, in the words of William H. McClendon, “in the forefront for developing and strengthening the intellectual, social, and political thought necessary for human liberation.”
The difficulties associated with advancing Black Studies are surpassed by the need to do so. To be remiss in continuing that struggle would be a catastrophe that we cannot afford, with consequences that future generations should not have to bear.
Parker discusses the fact that when education is considered to be a part of the black community,  it enhances the feeling of social empowerment and takes away the bias of discrimination.
Discrimination can lead African American students to devalue their achievements. But when they experience the perception of competence and learn that they have the ability to solve problems and to increase their future potential, it changes everything.
Parker argues for “helping to develop skills needed to cope with race-based challenges they will likely face,” sharing that “racial socialization can provide African American children with awareness that can create positive outcomes throughout their educational journey.” (Parker, 2016).


Colon, A. K. (1984). Critical issues in Black studies: A selective analysis. The Journal of Negro Education, 53(3), 268-277. Retrieved from

Ford, D. Y., & Moore III, J. L. (2005). This issue: Gifted education. Theory into Practice44(2), 77-79. Retrieved from This Issue: Gifted Education

Harper, F. D. (1977). Developing a curriculum of self-esteem for Black youth. The Journal of Negro Education, 46(2), 133-140. Accessed: 29-07-2019 23:22 UTC.

Lancer, J. R. (2002). Courting success: A new method for motivating urban black males. Diverse Issues in Higher Education19(5), 34. Retrieved from Courting success: A new method for motivating urban Black males

McDonald, S. (2007). A Historical Perspective: How a Positive Cultural Identity Can Increase Achievement Motivation and Self-Esteem in Young African American Students. Counselor Education Master’s Thesis. 71. Retrieved from

Parker, J. (2016). Racial Socialization and African American Students’ Academic Motivation and Self-Efficacy and Likelihood Attending Graduate School. Retrieved from: