This post was originally published on Defender Network
By Laura Onyeneho
Teaching is a revolutionary act. To some educators like Dr. Lindsay Gary (Ph.D., MFA, MA, MPA), not only is teaching Black history personal, but it’s her calling to help Black students feel seen in classrooms that may teach mostly white narratives.
Gary is the founder of The Re-Education Project (REP), a Houston-based program that equips and empowers Black youth with educational resources to impact their educational realities positively.
The recent attacks on race education have put many Black educators’ lesson plans and teaching on Black history under harsh scrutiny. The Re-education Project provides several programs that fill in gaps existing in some school curriculums. For example, REP’s Youth Book Club allows youth the opportunity to explore the literary works of Black writers and authors often ignored by “mainstream” curriculums.
There’s also REP’s summer program that offers workshops and activities around six pillars: Black history, African culture, entrepreneurship, social justice, literature and social intelligence.
Gary was the 2021 Writer-in-Residence for The Printing Museum. She’s also a multi-disciplinary activist, professor-scholar and social entrepreneur from Karankawa Akokisa and Atakapa-Ishak lands (Houston). Gary can most often be found doing her heroic work in Houston’s Third Ward and in the south Louisiana area (her ancestral root).
The Defender spoke with Gary to learn about her work as a Black educator.
Defender: You have a deep connection to your African roots. How has growing up in Houston shaped who you are and your identity?
Dr. Gary: I grew up in the Third Ward. I was born and raised there. I grew up in a pro-Black, Afrocentric home. My parents instilled that in me growing up. I grew up knowing that I’m an African person from a historical context. I have my Black identity, being born in the US, and then I have my Creole identity because my family is from Louisiana. Every book we read at home, every puzzle we played with, and every toy we played with were Black. I grew up watching Roots as a four-year-old. My parents set us up for that. I was raised not only by my parents but my grandparents and extended family. I was raised in a village of very educated Afrocentric people.
Defender: What interested you in being an educator?
Gary: I take pride in my history and my identity. I’m from Houston, but my [biography] says I’m from Karankawa Akokisa and Atakapa-Ishak lands. It’s important to know the lands of the indigenous people and what the names were before it was called ‘Houston.’ I’m African, but I also have Native American heritage. I’ve always been a teacher since I was a kid. I have always had a passion for sharing knowledge. I remember when I was a kid, during Black History Month, I would bring papers and packets to school for my classmates. I didn’t grow up thinking I would be an educator; it was part of my calling.
Defender: African American History is being threatened in the political arena right now. What are your thoughts about it?
Gary: I teach African American history. Our history is relevant not just to us but to the entire World because human civilization began in Africa, and many contributions to the so-called Western World originated in Africa. When we leave that information out, we are doing the World a disservice because we are eliminating the foundation for what we consider to be modern civilization. It helps us to understand the possibilities of who we can be. We don’t have to feel defeated under challenging circumstances. If we don’t have it, we can create it. That’s why I created the Re-education Project.
Defender: Have you connected with other K-12 educators and parents who address concerns about how history is or should be taught in schools?
Gary: Absolutely. When I started the Re-education Project, I taught 8th-grade US History at a local charter school. I was disheartened that nothing had changed regarding textbooks since I had been in school. Other teachers and parents wanted better, but the administration and the school system pushed back against our actual history being taught and incorporated. There was a time I was teaching about slavery because it was part of the lesson for the week. I refused to start talking about our history with that. I decided to give them an assignment about African civilization so they could have context before slavery. A Black administrator at the school reprimanded me by saying that the kids don’t have time to learn it because they have to pass the test. It spoke volumes. There is always this pushback. It was not easy to do those things in the school system.
Defender: You are the jack of all trades. Not only are you a teacher, but you are also a dancer, choreographer, filmmaker and historian. What have all these things taught you about our history and storytelling?
Gary: All of them taught me something different. A lot of my understanding of culture comes from the arts. I grew up around people from other parts of the diaspora. Dance opened up my eyes to another level. Doing African dance brought me to many places, from Senegal to Cuba. Our kids miss out on so much knowledge and general understanding of the world if they are not exposed to the arts. That’s why we need more school arts programs.
Defender: How has the Re-education Project impacted Black Youth in Houston?
Gary: The Re-education Project is non-profit, and our goal is to create global change agents. Most of our programming is centered around 5th to 8th grade students. That’s a significant transition period from childhood to young adulthood. Developmentally, that’s when many young people become more aware of who they are. We chose to focus on six pillars because they need to be taught in schools and are instrumental in helping develop our youth for what our community needs.
Defender: How have students been able to apply their knowledge to their educational realities?
Gary: Our scholars always say, ‘We’ve never learned this in school.’ They know they’re not being represented. Our facilitators encourage them to know that regardless of their school, they should respect the environment and teachers. Be bold and speak up. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your education. We want them to be leaders and not feel scared when they return to school. We want them to take ownership of who they are in their history and culture.
Defender: The theme for Black History Month is Black Resistance. What does that mean to you?
Gary: Black Resistance is being an agent. One of my mentors called it “victorious consciousness,” meaning that I know my people will be victorious, and I will do whatever I can to ensure that happens for them. It could be advocating for African American studies in our school system, not as an elective but as a mandatory part of this nation’s curriculum. Resistance may mean taking a break and getting some rest. It can mean so many things. The name for The Re-education Project was inspired by Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s book “The Miseducation of the Negro.” He came up with the concept of Black History Month. Even though the book was written in the 1930s, we are still facing those same issues in the book. He set the blueprint for what we are doing.