Like many Black Americans, the release of Black Panther was a significant moment in my life, one that I was compelled to make sure my students fully understood. Our mornings typically start with an opening circle where students are free to share what’s on their minds. Since I had just returned from a trip to South Africa, we were speaking frequently about apartheid and it’s similarities and differences to Jim Crow and segregation in the U.S., as well as the importance of Nelson Mandela. My 5th graders are avid readers so many of them even picked up books on the topic. Discussing these topics gave them a deeper appreciation of the movie Black Panther as they understood the lack of representation that exists in Hollywood and how that lack of representation is rooted in racist systems in societies both here and abroad.
One morning, I paused our opening circle to show my students pictures from the actual Black Panther premier. We all watched in awe as we took in the beauty that was on the screen. I then showed them an awesome video where the costume designer from the movie, Ruth E. Carter, explains in great detail the inspiration for each costume depicted in the movie. My students were able to see pictures of actual African tribes and gain an appreciation for the colors, traditions, and tribes customs that inspired the movie. As someone who did not grow up with a positive view of Africa, I was so thankful this movie gave many tribes a platform to show the world the beauty and symbolism that exists in our homeland.
My students became infatuated with Black Panther, and it quickly became all we talked about each morning. One day, my student, Amaya, looked up and said, “Can we wear all black the day the movie premiers to show our support?” Before I could even say yes another student adds on “We should just have our own premiere party!” I was sold. I immediately reached out to my principal to secure a dress down day for the students. Using Valentine’s day as a guise for my real agenda, approval came quickly. While other classes planned for a Valentine’s day party, we planned for a trip to Wakanda.
The students took over the entire event. I asked for volunteers to be on the party planning committee (I’m a big fan of “The Office” ), and the kids’ ideas began to flow. They created a dance floor, runway for a fashion show, booked a dance performance from our school dancers (I know, too adorable), created a schedule for the party, made photo booth props, a mask decorating station, and even ask certain students to prepare speeches about what the movie meant to them.
It was one of the most special moments of my teaching career. Below are a few pictures from the event, the party was only supposed to be for my students, as other classes prepared for traditional Valentine’s day parties, but once word spread about our party, we ended up with the entire 5th grade in Wakanda.
The party was a highlight for all of the students who came and I hope a memory they will have forever. During this political climate, I think it’s even more important to always celebrate communities of color, and show students the significant contributions people who look like them are making to our society.