Image of Dr. LaGarret King.

LaGarrett King, director of the UB Center for K–12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education and GSE associate professor of social studies education, gives opening remarks at the 5th Annual Black History Teaching Conference. (UB Photo/Douglas Levere)

Exploring Mother Africa: UB holds Teaching Black History Conference


To learn the best curricular and instructional practices surrounding Black history education, the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education held the 5th Annual Black History Teaching Conference from July 22-24, 2022.

The event, organized by the UB Center for K–12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education, welcomed more than 350 educators, parents, students, librarians and museum curators virtually and in person at City Honors School in Buffalo.

This year’s conference theme was Mother Africa.

Attendees had the opportunity to choose from over 50 sessions that explored strategies for teaching ancient to contemporary African history. Topics ranged from using literature to explore Africa as a continent, teaching elementary students to be literate about the African diaspora, and preserving the Black narrative in digital form.

A safe space

“This conference seeks to be a safe and radical space where teachers convene and discuss Black history curriculum and instruction. Workshop presentations are informative and interactive, providing participants with culturally relevant and sustaining strategies and resources to incorporate Black history throughout the school year and across curriculum disciplines,” said LaGarrett King, director of the UB Center for K–12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education and GSE associate professor of social studies education.

“We are always excited about our conference, but this one had special significance. It was our 5th anniversary and the first hosted at our new home, UB’s Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education,” he said.

Teaching and learning about Mother Africa

This year’s Mother Africa theme was sparked by King’s long-ago observation that children are first introduced to Black people in school through enslavement. “When we do that, we miss out on thousands of years of history, and there are implications to understanding Black people as ‘your slaves.’ But, if we understand them as different ethnic groups in Africa, you get to understand their humanity,” he said. “You get to understand various cultures. You get to understand how these particular people live. You get to really understand how they got to the Western world.”

Joy Bivins, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, delivered the keynote address on July 22.

Throughout her talk, “Exploring Global Black History through the Archives,” Bivens explained that educators can facilitate and enhance global Black history learning by exploring the African artifacts, art, manuscripts and archives collected and preserved by the Schomburg Center. “We are here to share what we have … and we will continue to do it, painting by painting, object by object, and book by book,” she said.

Nwando Achebe, Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor of History at Michigan State University, was the keynote speaker on July 23 and discussed women, gender and the female principle in Africa.

Gloria Boutte, Carolina Distinguished Professor at the University of South Carolina, and George Johnson Jr., professor at South Carolina State University, delivered the keynote address, “Back to Africa: A Conversation with Drs. Diaspora,” on July 24.

Inspiring curiosity and critical conversations

GSE doctoral student and Marathon Central School District principal Holly Marcolina presented “Let Her Speak for Herself: Unsilencing the Geographical Stories of the African Continent.” Marcolina’s session encouraged educators to use maps in conjunction with photographs, trivia and interesting landmarks to ignite students’ curiosity and better understand distinct locations and cultures throughout the continent.

“Africa is the second biggest continent in the world. It is just enormous … So many times, Africa is really presented as this monolith—it’s all one big culture, one big place,” Marcolina said in her presentation. “How could that be possible when you’ve got a place this huge?”

This event builds on the Center for K–12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education’s efforts to provide educational experiences focused on how Black history and race are taught and learned around the world to K–12 students, in-service and pre-service teachers, and the general society.

According to GSE Dean Suzanne Rosenblith, the event occurred at a critical time.

“This conference is so important for current and future educators and school leaders. We’re living in really precarious times right now, where in many states across the country, organized efforts are underway to silence and erase Black history,” she said.

“Participating in this conference is a positive and constructive act of resistance.”