To celebrate Black History Month, the Virginia-based teacher brings history to life.
Latoya McGriff is a first grade teacher at Creekside Elementary School in Suffolk, Virginia. That year, McGriff decided to dress up as a different African American historical figure every school day during Black History Month.
“I decided to dress up for Black History Month so that the children could actually see a living person from the story,” McGriff told Good Morning America. “I just wanted to bring the story to life for the children.”
McGriff, who has been an educator for 12 years, said that the majority of her school’s population is black, and stressed the continuing importance of representation in history.
“It is important for the children to see that people who look like them have made contributions because it assures them that they can do it … It is difficult to believe in something that you cannot see” McGriff said.
The different outfits are used as conversation starters, explained McGriff. Students will ask questions when they see them and want to learn more about the historical figure they represent, she added.
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McGriff decided to also focus on African-American historical figures in Virginia this year. Her personal favorite was Mary Jackson.
Jackson was a mathematician and aerospace engineer at NASA in the 1950s and played a large – and largely unknown – role in sending the first astronaut into orbit.
Jackson’s life was most recently featured in the blockbuster “Hidden Figures” from 2016, in which she was played by Janelle Monae.
“Mary Jackson influenced me personally because of her fight,” said McGriff. “She was known as a human computer, but because of her skin color and because she was a woman, she wasn’t even allowed to attend meetings. Nevertheless, she prevailed.”
McGriff dressed like other well-known personalities like Misty Copeland, Ella Fitzgerald and Barack Obama, but also paid tribute to lesser-known people like James Lafayette, a former slave who became a spy during the Revolutionary War. Dr. L. D. Britt, the first African American doctor in America to have an endowed chair in surgery; and Thurgood Marshall, the first Supreme Court African-American judiciary.
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In addition to various historical figures, McGriff also decided to honor historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the nine historically black Greek letter organizations.
Two institutions personally relevant to McGriff are Hampton University, the Virginia School she graduated from in 2006, and Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., of which she is a sisterhood.
McGriff said she wanted HBCUs and organizations with black Greek letters to inspire higher education.
“”[Learning about these organizations] gives children something to look up to and they look forward to going to school and going to college, “McGriff said to” GMA “.
“I hope that [the students] Learn, under whatever circumstances, you can make a difference in this world, “said McGriff.” No matter where they come from, what they look like, they can make a difference. “
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Although online attention was a shock, McGriff hopes that awareness of the importance of Black History Month in schools will continue to be raised.
“I hope that [people who see the story] I’m going to implement some kind of Black History Month program in their school, “said McGriff.” You don’t have to dress up like me … but I just want people to include the black story so that other color students can see themselves represented in the story. “
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