In a recent TikTok, GSE PhD student Dawnavyn James reacted to a timely concern. The text in the video read, “Ummm … those books you’re reading to your kindergarteners are banned!”
She responded by smiling, winking at the camera and lip-syncing along to the music in the video: “I don’t give a damn about that.”
James’ TikTok has been watched over 10,000 times.
Through her humor, creativity and style, the former kindergarten teacher has amassed a large social media following—48,300 followers on TikTok alone. While her audience may have initially found her social media content because of her #TeacherDrip or trending audio choices, they remain committed to consuming James’ content because of her Black history education expertise and resources.
James moved to Buffalo from Kansas City, Missouri, in 2022 to pursue her research interests in teaching Black history in elementary schools. As a PhD student in the Department of Learning and Instruction, she focuses her research on teaching with Black history picture books—a powerful resource for educators of young learners, according to James.
Whether it’s on social media, in her Black History Club for young historians, or at UB, where she is a fellow in the Center for K–12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education, James is passionate about studying Black history education and creating communities and practical resources to help teachers.
Where does that passion come from? Her former students. “It’s been interesting not being in a space with little children and learning from them. But it’s also been nice because the reason that I’m doing this is because of them,” she said. “I want to show everyone else how important Black history education is in the elementary space.”
According to her advisor, LaGarrett King, director of the center and associate professor of social studies education, James is achieving that goal. “She is already an established star within the Black history atmosphere, and I knew if I enticed her to come to Buffalo, my job would be much easier,” he said. “She adds tremendous value to not only GSE, the center and me, but to the city of Buffalo and the country.”
James has only just gotten started. When she’s not studying, presenting at conferences, posting on social media, or exploring Buffalo’s local restaurants and bookstores, she is giving back to teachers in a new way: She’s writing a book, “Beyond February.”
The book, which will be published in November, will guide elementary educators on effectively and meaningfully teaching Black history all year round. “Oftentimes people say, ‘They’re too young,’ or ‘They can’t talk about race,’” explained James. “Kindergarteners are a lot more brilliant than we think they are, and I think we underestimate their knowledge and what they can have conversations about.”
“I want to help teachers. I really do,” said James. “Whether they’re preservice or active teachers in the classroom now, I really want to support them.”