Understanding Juneteenth and Black History: A Family Discussion
“Wait,” said my 14-year-old son. “You’re telling me there were slaves in Texas who didn’t know they were free? For years? And that’s what Juneteenth is about?”
We had a discussion about what was going on in my kids‘ history classes at high school, and it brought us to the topic of what they learned about the Civil War and Reconstruction, which… well, you know what I mean. I was rightfully surprised that my younger son didn’t know the history of Juneteenth – he’s a history buff who can often teach me a thing or two on the topic. However, that was just one aspect of Black history he hadn’t been exposed to.
It struck me as a clear family opportunity to spend more time together and learn collectively. As our family dinner conversations often revolve around topics like history, politics, books, music, and science, bringing Black history to the table seems like a natural addition. But I’m embarrassed to say that I may be outside my comfort zone when having these conversations.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help me – and they are not just great for families with teenagers like mine. At nearly every age level, there are opportunities to introduce fun facts and interesting information about the history and contributions of Black individuals throughout history. In honor of Black History Month, here’s a brief overview of resources you might want to use at your family dinner table:
- Use these conversation starters to get things going. „Mama Knows It All“ has a simple, effective script that you can use with young children to explain why Black history is important. You can then read some of the picture books on this list from The Conscious Kid. As children move into upper elementary school and expand their knowledge of historical Black figures, they can benefit from these conversation starters from Scholastic, which build on books about the civil rights movement. And even though MLK Day has passed, you can still utilize our MLK Day conversation starters to continue discussing various civil rights themes – addressing topics like anti-racism, changing the world, learning from difficult historical events, and more.
- Guide older children to deeper resources. You could suggest exploring great collections such as StoryCorps‘ Black History Month videos or the TED-curated list of perspectives on Black history and identity. Or if you have tweens and teens who enjoy reading, Facing History provides an excellent book list to choose from. We highly recommend looking at or reading the same resources you share with your children, and discussing your thoughts together. What have you learned that surprised you? How did you feel about particular aspects of the work? How did the book or video relate to something you’ve seen in your own life or community?
- Explore art, culture, and cinema together. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture offers a wealth of information on „Afro-Americans and the Arts“ for Black History Month 2024. Try immersing yourselves in the work of Black creators, especially those you haven’t experienced before. And you can continue your explorations with our curated dinner and film experience centered around anti-racist ideas.
- Put together a family dinner menu based on Black culinary traditions. Consider exploring dishes from this list of recipes by Black chefs to celebrate Black history, this menu from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, or learn more about Black culinary traditions in Afroculinaria by chef Michael Twitty. You can also learn more by watching the Netflix series „High on the Hog.“
We love this recipe for seared pork chops with tomato sauce from America’s Sunday Supper Movement, which aims to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to work on improving their communities.
Seared Pork Chops with Tomato Sauce
Play a game of Celebrity with a Black History Month twist! Try using only the names of influential individuals from Black history.
A moment in Black history your family may not know much about is the story of the Friendship 9. Learn more about it together and then try these conversation starters to deepen your understanding.