Black August and the New School Year

Written by Dr. Robert Daylin Brown

For me, the month of August means excitement and hope as I look to the start of a new school year. The month of August also carries with it another significance for Black communities nationwide. Many Black communities honor and observe Black August, a month-long commemoration of the fight for Black liberation. Black August was first celebrated in 1979 in northern California’s San Quentin Prison. Black freedom fighters and political prisoners sought to honor the life of George Jackson who was assassinated in August 1971 after working with other freedom fighters to demand better living conditions, to demand access to education and medical care, and to demand an end to the violent treatment by racist prison guards.

Commemorating Black August is much different than celebrating Black history month in February. While much of February’s celebrations are joyous and centered on recognizing the important contributions of Black historical figures, Black August is centered specifically on the fight for Black freedom in all its forms. On the website Liberation School, writer Joe Tache said it best:

“August, more than any other month, has historically carried the weight of the Black Liberation struggle. Of course, enslaved Africans were first brought to British North America in August 1619. Just over 200 years later, in August 1831, Nat Turner led the most well-known rebellion of enslaved people in US history. The historical significance carried into the 20th century, when both the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Watts Rebellion–an explosive uprising against racist policing in Los Angeles–occurred in August during the 1960s.”

Now that Black August coincides with the start of the school year, it takes on even greater significance for me. For many Black students, schools can be traumatizing, negative spaces in which they must navigate the stereotypes of their peers and teachers, endure dilapidated facilities with few resources, and learn to grow and survive in environments that constantly fail to honor who they are as human beings. Even today in 2023, we are still fighting for educational justice for Black students. We are fighting in a politically heated environment where there is a greater push for the erasure of Black experiences in the curricula of many school districts. We need educators who are intentional about breaking systems and dismantling racist practices in schools. We need educators who are intentional about changing lives. We need educators who care about Black liberation.

Imagine a new first day of school. Imagine what we could do by aligning our first day of school with lessons of Black August. Imagine teachers nationwide beginning their first days with conversations about freedom and liberation and fighting for justice.

I believe there is no greater equalizer for social justice and freedom than education. My wife, Dr. Salina Gray (this Dr. Gray right HERE) once told me that being an educator is her contribution to the revolution, and I’ve been adhering to that belief ever since, aligning my work as an English professor to this ideology in the spirit of Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. My English 102 course (Intermediate Composition and Critical Thinking) is now focused on exploring the ways in which America was founded on racialized oppression and economic exploitation. My English 101 course (First-year Composition) is centered on strengthening one’s self and one’s community through the development of physical, emotional, social, mental, and economic well-being. My African-American literature course explores the ways in which the theme of Black liberation has threaded itself through centuries of Black writing from plantation narratives to Afrofuturistic stories.

August is all about remembering the fight for freedom and putting deliberate action behind one’s beliefs for a liberated Black community. The start of the new school year in August fills me with hope because I believe the classroom can be the place where liberation begins. Conscientious teachers with a heart for change can bring about true healing and transformation for their students and their communities.

For more information on trauma and healing, please visit our resources on our website. 

Photo by Ken Thompson