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Frustrated Florida parents resolve to teach Black history to their kids

Gov. Ron DeSantis is prompting Black parents "to take the reins to educate their children, a Florida mother said.
Photo illustration of a Black mother and daughter on the steps of the Supreme Court holding a newspaper about banning school segregation; a poster asking Black people to join the army in the Civil War; a mother and daughter doing homework at a table; the March on Washington in 1963; and a button reading "Equal Rights in '63"
Florida's banning of books on race, racism and LBGTQ issues and rejection of an AP African American Studies course has caused an uproar among Black parents.NBC News; Getty Images

For LaToya Tokley, a single mother of three from Tampa, Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign to cut down the curriculum of Black history in the state’s schools has not bothered her as much it has inspired her to take action. And many Black parents are with her. 

Tokley, a public relations manager, had always made a point of sharing with her children their family history as well as accounts of Black life from bygone eras. “But this deliberate attempt to erase our past, as if it did not happen or is not important — when, in fact, is a critical part of telling America’s story — is really disgusting,” she said. “At the same time, DeSantis doesn’t understand what he’s doing. He is provoking Black parents to take the reins to educate their children on our history and relate it to what’s going on in the world today … And we are.”

LaToya Tokley.
LaToya Tokley. Sterling Gibson

With DeSantis leading the charge, Florida rejected a proposed Advanced Placement African American studies course because it discussed the topics of reparations, Black feminism and the Movement for Black Lives, among others, according to a list of concerns DeSantis’ office shared. On Jan. 12, the Florida Department of Education sent a letter to the College Board, which administers the class for high school students nationwide, informing them the course will not be offered in public schools across the state.

As for DeSantis, the Republican governor has said the proposed AP course “lacks educational value.”

The frustration of Black parents in Florida reached a new high after the state banned so-called critical race theory in classrooms in 2021 and more recently also banned more than 1,000 books that addressed race and racism and LBGTQ issues. Furthermore, at least two Florida counties have made it a felony punishable by five years in prison if teachers do not remove books or cover up particular books about Black history in the classroom.

Many parents told NBC News that their disappointment and anger have shifted to a dogged determination to counter the bans by taking command of their children’s Black history education and using racially charged events as teaching platforms.

Kristina Lyles.
Kristina Lyles. Courtesy of DonorsChoose

“The best teachers are located within the home,” Tokley said. “And when we talk about Black history, I always think about the fact that Black history is our everyday experiences. History is that thing that, if we learn from it, [it] can propel us in the future to be better and not make the same mistakes. For them to want to take away that from schools has galvanized us to do something about it. And that’s a good thing.”

Legendary Miami rapper Luke Campbell tweeted last week that DeSantis’ attack on teaching Black history “says to us that we — including myself — need to be the ones teaching Black history to our kids.” 

The post received more than 1.4 million views and was retweeted close to 2,000 times.

“I’m so riled up about this,” said Kristina Lyles, vice president of equity and impact at DonorsChoose, an organization that supports more than 800,000 teachers across the country, including 4,818 Black teachers in Florida. She is a mother of two small kids. “There’s no way that my Black children will enter the world or their school environments without a real understanding of who they are and from where they have come,” Lyles said. “If students know about our history, we’ll do so much better as a country, as global citizens. Masking that is certainly not going to get us to a better place in their education system, and certainly not in the world,” she concluded. 

Tony Wilson, an executive at a major software company who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, said his 16-year-old son, Blake, a standout high school basketball player, shared he has thought about leading a walkout or some form of protest to the African American studies course controversy.

“You hate to put the burden on these kids, but it impacts them and they have a big stage as one of the top-ranked teams in the nation,” Wilson said. But the bigger point that Wilson said he’s taken from this experience is the need to “teach your kids at home.”   

Tony Wilson.
Tony Wilson.Alexis Easton

“We’re watching the 1619 Project on Hulu, for example,” he added. “There is a consciousness on us as parents that says to them: ‘Hey, you need to know these facts.’ This is not about making white folks feel uncomfortable. It’s about making white folks acknowledge that, ‘Hey, these things really did happen.’ These historic events — the burning down of thriving Black communities in Tulsa and Rosewood right here in Florida, for example — explain the income inequality that we have today.”

Which leads to Wilson’s big-picture perspective on why DeSantis and others are against thorough Black history courses.

“The bigger sinister plot,” he said, “is that as the country, especially a younger generation, becomes more open to the idea of some form of reparations or restitution for the wrongs that have been done to Black people, there is an intentional attempt to temper down the acknowledgment of that history. But they can’t deny that this history of injustice makes the case for reparations that should be distributed to Black people.”

In Jacksonville, the history behind Ax Handle Saturday — when 60 years ago 200 angry white men attacked Black youths who had a sit-in to protest being banned from eating at the counters of a store — is not taught in schools. 

“We have to read to learn about this stuff, more now than ever, to share with our children,” said Mark Landers, a retired salesman from Jacksonville who is raising his 12-year-old grandson. “When I stumbled on this, I immediately felt the need to share it with him because he has to know about where he lives and what it was like. It all relates to his existence, and so it’s really sad that DeSantis and the school board could say there’s no value in our history.”

A mother of three — ages 21, 12 and 8 — said she had never relied “solely on teachers to teach my kids Black history.” She is a state employee who asked to not be identified for fear of retaliation. She said chatter about the AP course has become dominant among Black Floridians.

“The common thing I keep hearing is, ‘Why are they so threatened by our history?’” the Jacksonville native said. "Teaching Black history in school is critical because parents don’t always have the time or resources to do so. Gov. DeSantis is not a favorite within the Black community, and this move just confirmed that he is not for us.”

Lyles, of DonorsChoose, said Black teachers in Florida are in a quandary because they understand the value of teaching Black history. She said they continue to request books through her organization about racial justice and representation and books that celebrate freedom, change and humanity.

“Teachers don’t become someone different when they step into the classroom,” Lyles said. “They bring with them their own histories, their own background, their own identity. Teachers of color are showing up in such a way in classrooms that say, ‘I want my students to understand and to be anti-racist, to be inclusive, to understand what it means because that’s who I am as teacher of color in this classroom.’”