In honor of Black History Month, we spotlight two of our Black team members at The Learning Partnership. Aida Sorour joined The Learning Partnership in December as an Education Research Coordinator. She is an alumna of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and is excited to be supporting CPS teachers in broadening access to STEM education for CPS students. Bo Banwo served as a postdoctoral fellow on the PUMP-CS research-practice partnership (RPP). He is currently an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and is still an active team member in the PUMP-CS RPP.
My blackness is the part of myself that I am undoubtedly most proud of. I am African American and have roots in North Africa. To me, being Black comes with all the agency and freedom that the world tries so hard to take away. This can exist in so many different ways for every person, but one institution that I find both liberating and empowering is education. Black figures like Solomon Northup, Fredrick Douglas, WEB Du Bois and other trailblazers reclaimed their power to be educated in a country that simply said they did not have the right to do so. It is that much more important to me that access to quality education be at the disposal of black people in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
I have joined The Learning Partnership in pursuit of making these things possible. Access to STEM education has limited reach in black communities as a result of many different institutional hurdles. I am excited to be a part of a team whose mission includes giving every type of student exposure to and generating excitement about STEM. As an Education Research Coordinator, it is overwhelming to be on the forefront of challenging racial disparities in education. It is equally refreshing to see students exploring computer science classes, sometimes for the first time ever, within the same public education system that I am a product of.
It is so valuable that I am able to do this work in the time that I am. Things like the 1619 Project and the CROWN Act passed into law here in Illinois (Senate Bill 817) just this past August are motivation that a rich, representative learning environment is not only possible, but is happening right now. Some things that I do to celebrate black history month in February, and generally all year long, is to buy from black businesses, plan for Juneteenth festivities and learn more about my own black history!
BODUNRIN O. BANWO, Ph.D.
Growing up in Florida, Black History Month was always a time to remember and celebrate African Americans’ unique contributions to the country. Indeed, from a very young age, I can remember visiting the many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in Florida and learning about the history and people that fought to build the community we enjoy today. For me, being Black means being part of a diaspora that has given many gifts to the world and being conscious of the ancestors who have traveled the “Stony road” of our past.
Additionally, my family always uses Black history month as a moment of cross-cultural celebration. This time of year was always special for my family because it was an opportunity for us to have conversations about both histories, my mother’s American history and my father’s Nigerian heritage.
My father immigrated from Nigeria, and my mother’s family goes back six generations in the state of Florida. Growing up in a state as diverse as Florida, you can really appreciate the complexities and shades of Blackness that were on display. Growing up I had African, Afro Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Haitian, Jamaican, South, and Central American friends who all celebrated and remembered their particular branch of a much larger diaspora of Africanness. For us kids, being black was about remembering the past and using it as a tool to grow into the men and women that will carry their ancestors’ legacy into the future.
Indeed, this idea of remembering the past is something I take with me everywhere I go. I am a graduate of Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. BCU is an HCBU founded by Mary McLeod Bethune, the first solo woman of any race to found a university in the United States. Her spirit and her motto, “enter to learn, depart to serve” is something all her “babies” carry with them. She, for me, is Black history, and I, like all her babies, live that legacy every day. As I close, I want to include words from Dr. Bethune’s 1953 “last will and testament” as the defining words of this blog, she and all who believe in a better world, leave you with love:
“If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. As I face tomorrow, I am content, for I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and Love.”