African American Studies Making its way to Forest Hills

How one teacher has changed Union County's history

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African American Studies has been around since the late 19th century, however, it has just recently been introduced at Forest Hills High School.

    The class is being taught by Jared Gatewood. Gatewood is a social studies teacher and it is his first year at Forest Hills. “In first grade, I was actually a tutor for kindergarteners, so I like helping kids learn,” said Gatewood who had started teaching at a young age. Despite his early experience in teaching, Gatewood actually went to school to be a lawyer. When he was on the verge of going to law school, an opportunity to teach arose at Harding University High School, located in Charlotte, NC. “If I know about it [social studies] then why not teach kids about something I am passionate about,” said Gatewood. He then made the decision to teach.

    When Gatewood was brought the proposal to teach African American Studies, he graciously accepted. He was actually shocked to find out that he would be teaching the first class of the sort that had ever been at Forest Hills or any other school in Union County. Gatewood stated that  “To me, it was alarming that there had been no other class like this when the majority of your demographics are from minority backgrounds.” When you look at the facts it is surprising given that African Americans are the second dominant race in Union County. So, besides the demographics, why else would a social studies teacher take on the task of teaching such a cultural class at a school he’s only been at for one semester?

    “I do think it is important to learn history, but most history we learn is from a eurocentric point of view… I feel that African American history gives you an additional perspective on the events that actually happened in history,” explained Gatewood. In other words, he wanted to give the students a different view of history. It is important that in some cases you get various point of views in order to really understand the events. By starting the class, students were no longer being told the perspectives of the Europeans, which they have been learning for so long. History hasn’t always been in favor of African Americans, so there can be instances in which students don’t learn the whole truth. Classes like African American Studies can prevent history from being so one-sided.

Gatewood going over an assignment with his second block African American studies class.

    The class has eight units covering from African empires and civilizations all the way to what it means to be an African American today in American society. “In my opinion, the whole entire class is important but each unit equally contributes to the overall importance of the class,” Gatewood said. Every unit has its significance but Gatewood is more eager to teach the unit focusing on what it means to be an African American today. “I believe that if these African American students actually knew more about themselves I think they would carry themselves in a different manner. So, that’s the one I’m most excited about teaching because it’s mostly related to them,” Gatewood expressed.

    Gatewood does plan on keeping African American studies at Forest Hills for years to come. “It’s a class that I think can stay here at Forest Hills long term and I’m building the curriculum right now and I hope that it comes back next year and into the future,” stated Gatewood. Having African American studies at Forest Hills is a big step in teaching students about their ancestry and culture. One can hope that more schools in Union County can learn from Gatewood and that it will encourage them to start classes just like his.