July 21, 2024

Hard History Lessons: Queer teacher reveals Louisiana’s legacy, untold past

Hard History Lessons: Queer teacher reveals Louisiana’s legacy, untold past

Teaching in Louisiana as a gay man feels like walking a tightrope over Bayou DeSiard’s swamp – it’s precarious, but with the right balance, it’s a mesmerizingly majestic dance.

The South’s history isn’t just etched in textbooks (if that); it’s ingrained in each breath and lesson we take every day. Yet, through Learning for Justice’s Teaching Hard History resources, my students and I discovered that beneath the weight of oppression lies a resilient spirit yearning to break free.

“We’re not just teaching history; we’re writing a history that has been suppressed for too long,” says Justin Overacker Denagall, a teacher at Wossman High School in Louisiana. (Credit: Abdul Aziz)

In the bayous and backroads of the Pelican State, where tradition and progress often clash like fierce hurricanes meeting the sturdy roots of an oak tree, being a teacher means more than just facilitating meaningful discussion and building an affirming classroom culture – it’s about excavating truths buried deep in the mud of history.

Our project, “Unearthing Voices of Resilience: Louisiana’s Untold Rainbows of Jubilee,” has been our shovel, unearthing narratives long silenced by the tides of prejudice and degradation. From Stormé DeLarverie and the 1900 Robert Charles Riots to Pearl Ricks and the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, we’ve amplified the voices of those who refused to be drowned out, weaving their stories into the fabric of our shared heritage.

In a project following our study of Hamilton: An American Musical that allowed students to step into Lin-Manuel Miranda’s authorship as he used primary sources to tell a new story of America now, my sophomore scholars chose a specific aspect of Louisiana’s hard history, conducted primary source research, analyzed multiple perspectives and used creative outputs like narrative writing, slam poetry, art and hip-hop to showcase their findings.

Reflection, discussion and public engagement with their pieces – a la TikTok – fostered a deeper understanding of Louisiana’s hard history and promoted awareness and change. This engagement exemplifies the transformative power of storytelling and education, subsequently demonstrating how we can not only uncover the truths of our past but also actively engage with them to shape a more inclusive future.

Yet, as we celebrate these triumphant stories, we must confront the shadows that linger in our statehouses and stymie our schoolhouses. Louisiana’s lawsuits that block Title IX anti-discrimination regulations stand as formidable obstacles to the rights of LGBTQ+ students, casting a pall over our progress. But as educators, we’re not ones to shy away from a challenge. With empathy as our compass and determination as our guide, we’re ready to navigate the murky waters of inequality and emerge on the shores of justice.

So, as I address my students in a school district, in a region and in a state that developed and still sustains me, I’m reminded of the words of poet and activist Audre Lorde: “Your silence will not protect you.” Through our collaboration with Learning for Justice, a program of the Southern Poverty Law Center, we’re not just teaching history; we’re writing a history that has been suppressed for too long. Together, we’ll forge a path towards a future where equality isn’t just a dream, but a reality.

In Louisiana, where the echoes of our past reverberate through the present, our journey with Learning for Justice has been a testament to the power of education to ignite change. And as we continue to chart our course through the complexities of our heritage, I’m filled with hope for the generations to come – a future where every story is told, and every student is free to be who they are.

Justin Overacker Denagall teaches high school English and pre-educator coursework at Wossman High School in the Monroe City School District in northeast Louisiana.

Photo at top: Justin Overacker Denagall, a teacher at Louisiana’s Wossman High School, used Learning for Justice resources for the class project “Unearthing Voices of Resilience: Louisiana’s Untold Rainbows of Jubilee.” (Credit: Abdul Aziz)

Article originally published on www.einpresswire.com as Hard History Lessons: Queer teacher reveals Louisiana’s legacy, untold past