Henrico High offers new African American History class: 'They have the power to make change'

Posted at 1:56 PM, Oct 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 13:56:37-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va -- Henrico High School is one of just 15 schools across the Commonwealth to offer a new, full-year, African American History course.

Sixteen students are enrolled in the virtual class.

“They will learn from the beginning of ancient Africa and civilizations that typically you do not learn," Henrico High's African American History teacher Derick Vance said. "We’re talking about Nubia, we’re talking about Ghana, Mali, Songhai."

The course comes from an executive order Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed in 2019 that, "ensures the state’s standards of learning are inclusive of African history, allows students to engage deeply, drawing connections between historic racial inequities, and their continuous influence on our communities today."

That’s what drew Henrico High School Principal Karin Castillo-Rose to initially apply and offer the class as an elective.

“I thought that this really is needed, not only at this time but at this school," Castillo-Rose said. "When you have a predominately black school, you want to make sure that they are being seen in their curriculum and this was the number one way to do it."

Students said the African American History course gave them a foundation of knowledge they can use beyond the classroom.

“When I first saw the opportunity to take this class, I was like, 'I have to take it!'" Bryce Anderson, a Henrico High School senior, said. "I have to learn more about my ancestry and more about African American ancestry. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn and to gain a voice."

“I just love that class," senior MaKenzie Coles added. "I’m able to now not be afraid to go somewhere and voice and talk about our history. I’m able to go into a place and feel like I belong."

And that’s what Vance said he wanted his students to feel this school year -- a sense of empowerment.

“Just think of all the things that African Americans, and people of color as well, have contributed to the building and the wealth of the nation," Vance said. "You know, if I could leave that and instill that to them that they have the power to make change then, I’m happy."

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