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University City to share Black history with community through 'The 1619 Project'

Students within the University City school district pose with a project they created in response to the New York Times Magazine initiative The 1619 Project.
University City School District
Students in the University City school district pose with a work they created in response to the New York Times Magazine initiative "The 1619 Project."

After the New York Times Magazine published its 1619 Project initiative, students from University City High School asked district officials to provide more information about Black history than they were learning in school.

In response, the University City School District officials expanded its curriculum in 2019 and encouraged students to produce their own projects about Black history.

On Feb. 4, the district will start a monthlong community book study of "The 1619 Project" by New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones to discuss the lived experiences of Black Americans.

The 1619 Project places slavery and its legacy at the center of American history, which has sparked opposition from some lawmakers across the nation.

The goal of the online book study is for the community to dig deeper into Black American history, University City Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley said.

The 1619 Project has been criticized by some white parents across the country who claim that schools are trying to teach critical race theory and make white students uncomfortable. But teachers say schools are not teaching the graduate-level theory, just trying to give students a fuller picture of the nation’s history.

“We understand that there's a lot of rhetoric around it, but this has been a topic that my white students have benefited from, my Black students have benefited from, and my students from other ethnicities,” Hardin-Bartley said. “This is an all-of-us conversation, and so we don't know another way.”

The book study will include weekly learning discussions and breakout sessions. Participants are encouraged to bring questions about the book to discuss as well.

The book study is a way to bring communities together by exploring difficult chapters in the nation’s history, said Christina Sneed, University City school district English language arts curriculum coordinator.

“With all that's happening at our state level governing body and throughout the country, they are trying to prevent us from doing it in schools,” Sneed said. “So if you're saying we can't do it in schools, we'll do it with the community.”

Sneed hopes the discussions will encourage participants to share their knowledge of Black history throughout the year.

The district is collaborating with the University City Public Library, which will rent books to participants who need them.

People who are interested in participating in the book study have until Friday to register.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.