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Churches step in after Florida restricts how Black history can be taught


With Florida restricting how Black history can be taught, some churches are stepping in with their own lessons. Here's WMFE's Danielle Prieur.

DANIELLE PRIEUR, BYLINE: It's 7 o'clock on a Wednesday night, and Pastor Sharon Riley of Agape Perfecting Praise and Worship Center in Orlando would usually be preparing to lead Bible study. Today, she's getting her church ready for their first-ever African American History Masterclass.

SHARON RILEY: So if you will take a moment and just bow your heads with me. Father, we just thank you for your grace. It is still so amazing.

PRIEUR: There are about 100 parishioners packed into the pews, including a group of middle-school boys. Riley says these classes are in direct response to Florida's current political climate where restrictions have been placed on teaching history.

RILEY: Because we have families who have students who are registered in our public school system, we know that there are certain pieces of information relevant to our history that are not going to be taught.

PRIEUR: AP African American History has been banned in the state, and teachers are no longer allowed to talk about anything that causes discomfort or guilt for a child. In July, Florida approved new African American history standards that teach kids, quote, "slaves develop skills which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit." Tonight's class is taught by LaVon Bracy. She's with Faith In Florida, the group that created the history toolkit for churches.

RILEY: Two hundred and forty-six years of our ancestors being beaten, being raped, being degraded in America. Two hundred and forty-six years.

PRIEUR: This toolkit is not a curriculum, but a guide with recommended books, documentaries to watch and articles to read. It covers the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade through the Civil Rights Movement up to the killing of George Floyd. Bracy says Black churches need to make sure children get the full picture.

LAVON BRACY: So we want the true history of America to be known. That can only be done if you tell the truth about what has happened and learn from that so that it will not be repeated again.

PRIEUR: The course culminates with a trip to Alabama in the spring. They'll visit some of the most important sites of the Civil Rights Movement. Eric Smaw is the chair of philosophy at Rollins College near Orlando. He thinks these efforts are a great idea.

ERIC SMAW: And so now it's up to us to make sure that we stay engaged, we stay knowledgeable, we stay committed to the fight for civil liberties, because those who will want to constrain your civil liberties will stay committed on the opposite side.

PRIEUR: Back at Agape, Bracy wraps up her lesson by giving out tiny vials filled with soil she collected at various sites across Africa.

BRACY: I want the kids to take this soil with them, and I want every time that you have a very difficult thing to take this soil out and say my ancestors made it. They walked on this soil, and I can make it, too.

PRIEUR: For parishioner Angela Borders, tonight's lesson was an inspiration.

ANGELA BORDERS: Education is your power source to do greater things.

PRIEUR: Black churches have long played a large role in fighting for civil rights. Pastor Riley says she's now devoting one Wednesday every month to teaching Black history.

RILEY: Well, the church is going to always be an educational institution, period. We teach people how to live their lives, how to raise their families, how to plan for their future. We teach. That's what we do.

PRIEUR: Faith In Florida says more than 300 churches across Florida and the South have signed up to teach their toolkit.

For NPR News, I'm Danielle Prieur in Orlando.


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Danielle Prieur