top of page
  • Myesha Jemison

scholOURship: Scholarship That’s Truly Ours


When I was in the fourth grade in the US, one of my teachers tasked our class with doing a history project on colonial Virginia. For my project, I decided that I wanted to focus on the Virginia Algonquins, also known as the Powhatan people, who are native to North America. I researched as extensively as possible—for an elementary school child—to identify commodities with a direct relationship to the contributions of the Powhatan people. I brought popcorn to class to discuss how Powhatan-descended tribes cultivated corn in Virginia, roasting it over fires for consumption and grinding it into cornmeal. I also showed my classmates their beadwork and talked about its significance, and how beading patterns influence modern fashion. I think I wanted to show them that while we were learning about Native American people and culture as “history” in school, our culture, people, and contributions were very much alive. When I received my feedback, I was stunned at how poorly I’d been marked given how innovative I’d been and how diligently I’d worked. I felt as if the truth I’d shared wasn’t valued in the same way as other projects about the contributions of colonisers.


That experience—and many others since—have stuck with me and driven me to create a website, scholOURship.com, where I share syllabi that I author, co-author, and/or edit in partnership with academics, grassroots community organisations, and practitioners. Recently, I published a syllabus introducing Afro-Indigenous histories and contemporary realities, to address the aftershocks of North American colonisation. From Native youth forced into residential schools and stripped of their connection to culture and community, to the piloting of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course that was swiftly revised to exclude content on Critical Race Theory, efforts to revise, reduce, and reject Black and Native history remain an enduring aftershock of colonisation. My own experiences with curricula as a student within the Virginia public school system and my attempts to include Black and Native history in the syllabi I now create have shaped how I understand these aftershocks. These aftershocks illuminate the urgent need for the content scholOURship.com provides.


The year after my fourth grade experience, a different teacher at the same school tasked our class with a project on the civil rights movement. I’d originally intended to centre my project on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. While doing my research, I’d wondered if kids like me had been involved in the boycott, so I searched on Yahoo—yes, Yahoo!—for something like “kids civil rights.” What I found were pictures of Emmett Till in his open casket. Those visuals shook me. He had been only four years older than my ten-year-old self when he was murdered. The more I read about his story, the more it became apparent to me that his truth was the one I wanted to tell. So I prepared an extensive report on the circumstances surrounding his murder.

"I see developing this syllabus as an act of generation and resistance. I am bringing Afro-Indigenous history into curricular conversation and centring the very histories and people that US colonisation attempted to annihilate. While our exclusion from broader history narratives is an aftershock of this colonisation, our very existence—and the agency we reclaim over knowledge about our community—is our resistance."

About how a 21-year-old white woman named Carolyn Bryant Donham (recently deceased) had falsely accused Emmett of whistling at her. About how Donham’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half brother, JW Milam, had showed up at Emmett’s relative’s home asking for him. About how the half brothers brought Emmett to Carolyn Donham to verify his identity. About how Bryant and Milam then brutally murdered him by shooting and beating him, tying a heavy metal fan to his body, and tossing him in the river, leaving him to be found disfigured. About how Emmett’s mother decided to have an open-casket funeral so that people could see the barbaric act committed against her child.


I remember how difficult it was for me to grapple with Emmett’s story. I had been proud of myself for delivering the presentation and for sharing with my classmates a part of history that wasn’t in our textbooks, but was nevertheless important. Yet, again, this pride subsided when I received my grade. When I asked my teacher what I could have done to improve my presentation, the simple feedback I received was that I “should have brought props.”


My peers hadn’t brought props. And what props do you bring for a report on a murdered and mutilated boy?


These experiences in the formative years of my knowledge-building have stayed with me. Maya Angelou once said, “Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of US history is taught from one book. Just US history.” My elementary school experiences taught me that the knowledge on Black and Native history that is integral to who I am, and how I navigate life, still wasn’t welcome under the umbrella of US history.


With efforts in the US to (most recently) remove African American studies from school curricula—when our textbooks already whitewash so much of our history and present reality—starting scholOURship.com has become a labour of love. I see developing this syllabus as an act of generation and resistance. I am bringing Afro-Indigenous history into curricular conversation and centring the very histories and people that US colonisation attempted to annihilate. While our exclusion from broader history narratives is an aftershock of this colonisation, our very existence—and the agency we reclaim over knowledge about our community—is our resistance. At scholOURship, we believe that “much like academia, educational curricula also suffer from inaccurate depictions of historical, cultural, political, and social realities that censure and censor truth, all the while perpetuating false narratives in the same way Critical Race Theory is being suppressed in communities across the United States, for example. How then might our understandings of histories be transformed if Black and Indigenous communities tell their stories via our syllabi?” This belief drives us to ensure that the scholarship produced about our communities is truly “ours.”

 

Myesha Jemison [2021] is a descendant of the Haliwa-Saponi Nation and Nansemond Nation who was raised on occupied Nansemond and Chesapeake land (see Native-Land.Ca). She investigates artificial intelligence and inequity, indigenous knowledge and power, and settler colonialism and technology. She’s founder of Scholourship Magazine and writes Afro-indigenous futurist fiction.

Σχόλια


bottom of page