The Black Education Act, which passed during last year's legislative session, has since been implemented to support Black students from preschool through higher education by giving students more resources and expanding curriculums to include the Black American experience, according to Kimberly York, a liaison for the Act in the NM Public Education Department..
On Jan. 23, 2023, the Florida Department of Education blocked the inclusion of Black history in their school curriculum by blocking the creation of an Advanced Placement African studies course in the state, calling the course “a form of political indoctrination and a violation of state law,” according to NPR. This AP course follows others that already study different regions' histories, cultures, politics and languages, among other science and math classes.
This proposed ban, and others like it, degrade African studies as less-than rather than as an integral part of a complete education, according to Sonia Gipson Rankin, an associate professor of law at the University of New Mexico; Rankin previously served as the president of the New Mexico Black Lawyers Association and a member of the NM Supreme Court Commission on Equity and Justice.
New Mexico, like the rest of the United States, has a rich Black history, Gipson Rankin said. This history has created and shaped much of the society that we currently live in.
“There would be no nation that we sit in today that we experienced today without the work, the experiences, the intellect, the endeavors, the entrepreneurship, the inventions, the creations, the music, the culture that is the input of the Black experience in this space. And that includes not only people that have been here for hundreds of years, but also with the rising immigrant communities and different black diasporic views that are in this space,” Gipson Rankin said.
The act strives to support Black students through a variety of actions: the creation of a hotline for students to call in with cases of discrimination, educator seminars on anti-racism and creating a curriculum that reflects the importance of the Black experience and to provide students aid as they transition to higher education, according to the Public Education Department.
The Black Education Act is the second of its kind nationwide, but it follows New Mexico’s Indian Education Act and Hispanic Education Act, which strive to do similar work for those populations in the state, according to York.
“(New Mexico is) a trailblazer in this work. Oregon was the very first state to have a black Education Act, and we are the second,” York said. “This is monumental for a state like New Mexico because when you think about the numbers of Black students (being under 3% of the total population), representation is very important.”
The act supports programs that help facilitate the transition to higher education in order to provide equitable access.
“One of the things that becomes important is bridging that gap between high school and higher ed. And so we work very collaboratively making sure that our students have the resources and access to information that they need about higher education opportunities, but also making sure that there is a bridge that can help them to make that trip … over into higher education,” York said.
Alongside helping students transition into higher education, the act seeks to help recruit and retain Black faculty at universities in leadership and tenure positions, according to York. The act strives to include students' perspectives with positions on its advisory council.
“We are required by law to have students represented on our advisory council. We just had a group of our students graduate, so we are recruiting students as we speak because their voice is very important,” York said.
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox
The importance of ensuring Black history is included in schools' curriculum and the Black Education Act is that, without it, you do not receive a full understanding of any field, according to Gipson Rankin.
“If you haven't studied the history of racism that has occurred in our education system, it won't make sense,” Gipson Rankin said. “You'll just look and say, ‘There must be something else here.’ You can make the fallacy to say that maybe there's something wrong with the people. At some point, you have to ask the question — is there something wrong with the system?”
The act also seeks to give students, families, staff and community members the ability to report racism experienced via hotline. There is no exception for anonymity when filling a report, according to the Public Education Department. This hotline is something Nicole Benford, who worked on the creation of the act, said she would have appreciated as a Black child growing up in New Mexico.
“Just the hotline alone, because it's not just students that tease other students, but you have staff that don't understand or say stuff that's inappropriate … so it would have helped a lot,” Benford said.
While the success of the act should be celebrated, it is important to pay attention to what happens with bans in Florida as they show a thought process that is prevalent in the country, according to Gipson Rankin.
“Even though there are still moments of great progress, like the Black Education Act here in New Mexico, there are still concerns that there are many people that agree with Governor DeSantis, his ideology that this topic lacks educational value,” Gipson Rankin said.
The education of Black history and identity is critical to being able to make progress against injustice faced by Black Americans, according to Gipson Rankin.
“Once you actually know that there's a reason for this disparity, once you actually know that the Black community has been an invaluable addition to society and has examples and models to show perseverance and adaptability and ability to navigate and solve and address despite really extreme harsh spaces — then you'll start to say, ‘Oh, what do I need to modify in my little choices? What do I need to catch in my little decisions? How do I need to unpack places where I might be biased or be falling back on old norms or images or sounds that tell me how I am to treat people versus what I know to be the better way to engage,’” Gipson Rankin said.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite