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'Black History Now': Social justice education beyond Black History Month


Wed, Apr 7th 2021 06:40 pm

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center collaborates on virtual tours, ‘Freedom Seekers’ curriculum

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center (NFUGRR) and the AT&T Foundation have launched “Black History Now,” a program to provide online educational resources on Black history, social justice and the legacy of slavery. NFUGRR has provided virtual tours and resources for teachers and students to utilize amidst the pandemic, but the organization aims to keep these lessons in the classroom beyond Black History Month as a way to continue the important conversation. 

“Black History Now” provides a social justice toolkit for teachers; equipped with innovative online learning resources, lesson plans, and AT&T’s “Virtual Field Trip” program where students and teachers can experience the Freedom Conversations Tour at the Heritage Center from the comfort of their home or classroom. Teachers who have participated in the virtual experience expressed the tour was much more impactful than textbooks; it’s live, interactive and unique.

NFUGRR recently hired new virtual tour educators specifically to provide the virtual Freedom Conversation tour as part of the “AT&T Virtual Field Trips'' program, which launched in November. The AT&T Foundation made this program possible through a $75,000 contribution to five partnering cultural and educational institutions. Collectively, the program offers teachers and students the experience of virtual field trips throughout Western New York at no cost to Buffalo or Niagara Falls public or charter schools, or Western New York Title 1 schools. 

Educators at the NFUGRR said they are grateful for the innovation the AT&T Foundation has provided in order to expand virtual learning opportunities across Western New York.

“Thanks to the AT&T Foundation, our team was able to complete facilitated dialogue training with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience,” said James Ponzo, a visitor experience specialist at the NFUGRR. “Using the facilitated dialogue technique is what sets our tours apart and allows us to engage students and adults in meaningful conversations about the legacy of slavery in Western New York and the ongoing resistance to oppression that continues today. This training has taken our virtual tours to the next level.”

AT&T “Virtual Field Trips” offer on-demand videos, live virtual leader-led tours, and even downloadable materials for teachers to implement in or out of the classroom. Click here for more information.

In addition to the enhanced virtual tours, staff at the NFUGRR recently consulted on a collaborative project that resulted in a "Freedom Seekers'' curriculum launched this month by the Center for Great Lakes Literacy. These lessons are offered for free to educators and offer an innovative way for students to discover local history with the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Great Lakes. 

“We were thrilled to work with such an impressive curriculum committee on this important endeavor,” Ponzo said. “The Freedom Seekers curriculum will teach students about the connections between the Underground Railroad and historical data, Harriet Tubman, famous Black scientists and inventors and much more.”

The curriculum and resources can be found here.

The Freedom Seekers curriculum is among many resources newly available for teachers through “Black History Now,” including grade-level resource guides, narrated story books, and “Teacher’s Guide to Rethinking Underground Railroad Terminology.” Teacher resources can be found here. Click here to view samples of real tours.

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center opened in May 2018 after 11 years of planning. The center is located inside the former 1863 U.S. Custom House attached to the Niagara Falls Amtrak station. The center sits adjacent to the location of the former International Suspension Bridge, a point of crossing for many freedom seekers including Harriet Tubman. 

The Heritage Center preserves the historic role of the people of Niagara Falls in facilitating freedom for the oppressed. The places and stories associated with this network of freedom seekers, free African Americans and abolitionists, evoke powerful themes in American history and celebrate the bravery of the men and women who risked their lives to achieve the most basic rights of liberty. Learn more at niagarafallsundergroundrailroad.org.

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