Remembering — And Making — History
When Ron Scott Jr. talks to Black students, he makes a point to remind them that Black history is integral to all history. In whatever they’re learning, he said, there is probably someone who looks like them that has made a significant contribution.
“And you definitely know it’s true if you’ve never heard it,” Scott said. “Like, if they don’t mention it at all. If you look, I bet you there’s someone who contributed in some sort of way.”
Everyone knows about Thomas Edison and his work in inventing the incandescent light bulb. How many know about Lewis Latimer, a Black inventor who worked with Edison to draft the patents for the light bulb, served as an expert witness for the patent litigation of the light bulb and wrote the first book on electric lighting in 1890?
So Scott asks those students as they’re in class to ask the question: is there a Black person who played a part in this bit of history? Not as a challenge to the teacher or as the student’s attempt to take over the lesson, but as a possible talking point or a moment to enlighten those who may not be aware.
“I always want them to ask that of the teacher, just bring that up to the teacher,” Scott said. “Just ask, and if they don’t know, hey, maybe this is a moment for everybody to learn some stuff. But I think it’s crucial that they learn that, because there’s little elements of pride that will keep them moving in a positive direction.”
Since graduating from Wheeling Park High School and returning to the Ohio Valley after attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, Scott has grown into an important leader in the Ohio Valley’s Black community.
The West Liberty University graduate currently works as the Cultural Diversity and Community Outreach Director for YWCA Wheeling and is a part of Men of Change, a group created to “empower, uplift, support and educate our community,” and has held several events to assist those less fortunate in the Ohio Valley.
He also is a past president and vice president of the Upper Ohio Valley NAACP, former vice chairman of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission and founder of the Ohio Valley African American Students Association.
He feels that by young Black students finding through history those who look like them, it can help boost their thinking that they can follow in those footsteps. He admits it’s not always easy for those students to ask teachers about that during class. Some who already looked at as leaders in the school may not want to rock the boat. Those who aren’t may not want to be looked at as a classroom problem or as challenging a teacher’s knowledge. Yet the subject remains important.
Another way to enhance the lessons, Scott said, is for teachers to season their curriculum throughout the school year with examples of the Black community’s contributions to the history of the subject. That way, teachers don’t feel like they must pack in all of their Black history lessons in February.
The last thing he wants to do these days, he admitted, was to put more on the shoulders of teachers whose jobs already have been made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. But by sprinkling in Black history lessons throughout the year, it could make what is done in February more effective.
“You sprinkle it in already and note where you sprinkle it in,” he said. “And when February hits, you go back to the things you’ve already said. ‘Remember when we talked about this guy? Now I can deep-dive on him.’
“Then you can cut it into pieces,” he continued. “I can bring back all the seeds I’ve planted throughout the year, and then I focus on a whole local way of thinking on Black history. Then you’ve got those two things you can kind of play around with. And then you can think, what pieces of Black history would be mind-blowing to you, would be shocking to you if you found them out? So now it starts to feel layered. And you can do that every year and it’ll feel fresh every time you do it.”
One thing Scott has seen from Black students now is their desire to forge their own chapters in history. There remain plenty of firsts for those young people to achieve He wants to help cultivate the community leaders of the future.
He’d also like to see those young people look back at different parts of their history and perhaps recreate them.
“You can be the person … I’d love for one kid to decide, I’m gonna recreate the Harlem Renaissance,” he said. “I’m going to do these artistic things to inspire. You can do that. And it would be based in something. You can follow a format or a blueprint and revitalize it or bring it up to date.”
Overall, Scott wants everyone to remember that the Black community’s contributions to history are diverse and plentiful, and his hope is that the conversation continues to deepen. It always will be important to discuss the cornerstones of Black history. He doesn’t want the discussions to stop there, and even he admits he has fallen into the mindset of thinking about the same people each February.
Yet, he added, there are so many other contributors who have earned their place in the discussion.
“Every piece of American history has a Black person involved and Black history truly is our history,” Scott said. “We have been involved in everything that is American. But when I hear Black history, I’m ready for Rosa Parks. I’m ready for Martin Luther King. I’m ready for what I’ve always consumed in February. I think that folks can start to change that. They can redefine it in a way.”