Camp COVID: Our Black History Awakening (and how you and your family can have one, too!)

Child posting sign on DIY Black History mural defining abolitionist

Friends, I’ve got to be honest. I made a discovery over the last few weeks that was a record-rip STOP EVERYTHING moment.

In the midst of having lots of candid conversation with my kids about race, racism, Black Lives Matter, white privilege, and more . . .  I uncovered a gap that needed to be filled IMMEDIATELY.

It’s time for a confession. It turns out their understanding of Black History was––well, less like a richly nuanced foundation from which to launch deeper investigation and thoughtful action . . . and more like a block of swiss cheese. In fact if you see our pet fly-on-the-wall and notice his dropped jaw, I can tell you why; this is what he overheard.

Slavery? I know! That happened during the Civil War.

What year was that? 1972

Martin Luther King, Jr.? We know! “I have a dream!” speech in black and white. It was so good.

Why did he give that speech? Umm… he was fighting against racism.

So there it is. As an author, as an advocate for literacy in underserved communities, as a history buff, as a woman who is willing to roll up her sleeves and fight . . . the truth is, I failed at home.

The kids and I are deeply concerned about what’s happening in this country. Deeply. But concern is not enough. Outrage is not enough. Both are good. Both are essential. But concern and outrage are nothing more than invitations to act. We have to accept the invitation. And then we have to show up and do the work.

My children had no idea that today’s fight began at least five hundred years ago. I wasn’t explaining this to my kids. And here’s the awful truth… as a white woman raising white kids, I haven’t had to. Right? We know this is one example of what people are talking about when they talk about white privilege. Because my kids are white, they are not subjected to racism. They are 8 and 11 year-old-boys. As for mothers of Black boys? Ages 8 and 11? They had these conversations with their kids a long time ago.

It’s time for me to step it up.

We are working on a project that is visual, creative, interesting, thought provoking, poignant, accessible, exciting, awe-inspiring, and fun. We are history detectives, explorers, and time travelers. Even better, my partner’s three precious children ages 12 to 14 are also taking part!  As the team guide, my goal is an exploration of Black History that is rich with books, movies, art, music, crafts, and has a sense of adventure and purpose. All of it will be pulled together in a gorgeous mural hanging in our dining room.

Plot spoiler, we are two weeks in, and  I want you to know this has been an incredible journey. An awakening. Want this for yourself and your family? So glad you said yes! I’m going to break down what we are doing into a step-by-step guide.

I’m excited. I am truly, truly excited. Friends, if you have been following my blog since the beginning, then you know I turn to murals for help in understanding the world we live in. Lame? Not a chance! You can see our ocean mural here and our space mural here.

Okay! Ready to get started?

Contractor Paper. This image shows you the type of paper needed for your DIY mural

Supply List:

*Brown Contractor Paper. It comes in a roll that will have enough to share among several families. You can order online or pick it up at most hardware stores. It’s sturdier than easel paper. Believe me, the kids already spilled milk on it, and it survived just fine. That’s what I need, paper that can handle our mishaps!

*Markers, glue, tape, construction paper – basic craft supplies for projects as we go along

*Something to attach it to the wall. This could be painter’s tape. I’m using bulldog clips, hung on nails.

*Books, movies, TV Shows and Internet access, and ideas for field trips to explore Black History. As we move through this, I’ll share every book and movie we are reading/watching. I gotcha, step by step!

PROJECT: Black History Awakening Mural
STEP #1 - Cut a length of contractor paper. I chose the length of my dining room wall so we can hang it on bulldog clips. You could tape it to the wall of a bonus room or roll it out on the floor and roll it back up at the end of the day. Wherever it works for your space! I ordered my large bulldog clips here.
Bull clips, they look like clips on clipboards and are perfect for hanging your mural, like the one shown here.


STEP #2 - To have a structure for the scope of your journey, you need a starting point. When did slaves arrive in America? There is a lot of discussion about this. Slaves arrived in Jamestown on August 20,1619 and we will cover that in our journey in great detail. But there are accounts of slaves arriving in what is now South Carolina in 1525. (Some sources say 1526.) We are using 1525 as our starting point. At the bottom of our mural is 2020.
1525, To start your timeline, you need a beginning date. We chose 1525 since salves arrived in what is now S.C. in 1525
STEP #3 - Now that you have a beginning and end, you can fill in the middle. We decided that going out of chronological order would actually be easier so we can pick and choose movies, facts, or stories as we go along. Not to worry, the timeline will help us understand the proper order of events.
Picture Book: Hidden Figures, about four Black women's extraordinary contribution to America's Space program and Nasa by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

The first stop on our journey was 1961 in Hampton, Virginia as we met the incredible Black women behind America's first space race: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden. Hidden Figures, a major motion picture, is amazing. This true story of innovation, ambition, problem solving and perseverance is based on the nonfiction book for adults by Margot Lee Shetterly. She also wrote an excellent picture book and book for teens about these geniuses and their extraordinary contribution to American history, despite horrific obstacles like racism and sexism. Bottom line, if not for these women, America would not have put men in space or on the moon. Period.

Want to go deeper? Check out Harper Collins' teacher's guide and NASA's resources here.

We are printing out book covers and movie posters to attach to our mural and label.
Black History Awakening Mural


1961 was not that long ago. I find it is particularly impactful when I can tell them the name of a family member who was born around that time. For children, this helps make these moments in history relatable, personal. They can nearly reach out and touch a place and time.

You can see we also watched major motion picture Remember the Titans, about how a newly integrated football team discovered how to come together as a team and as human beings. That happened in 1971. Looking at those two events on the timeline led to a great discussion. Ten years had passed. What had actually changed in ten years?
The beginning of our mural

The beginning of our mural. It might seem plain now, but just wait! This is going to be awesome.

Okay! More to come. And I can’t wait to tell you about that gorgeous picture book featuring the supportive and dear friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. And please comment below and post pics if you are taking this journey in your home. And hey, we are talking about race and racism. Don’t be afraid. We are all learning. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to get an up close view of our own ignorance, our own complicity. Honestly, it’s the only way to change it. And we can do that together, right? I am open to any and all feedback and excited to learn, grow and do better.

Glad to be on the journey with you! Click here to read Part 2. of Black History Awakening Mural: The Frederick Douglass Edition!


P.S. Here’s what I’m reading and learning so much from: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. I can’t recommend it enough.

So You Want TO Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo