Black History Month – Celebrating Mary McLeod Bethune

Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves

As a school with a student population that is primarily African-American, WSG, in many ways, celebrates Black History Month every month of the year. From the recognition of black leaders and historical figures as role models for our girls to the daily affirmation of our students’ talents and great potential, we celebrate and honor the rich history and culture that has brought our girls here – standing on the shoulders of giants, ready to take wing and fly.

One of these “giants” (ironically, as she was not very tall) is Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the three women whose legacy inspired the founding of WSG. During every morning assembly, our students pray for the strength and wisdom “to cherish education and the exercise of our civil liberties as Mary McLeod Bethune did that we might work together to bring about a peaceful and just world.” This daily recognition of MMB reminds our students to never take for granted their education or their civil liberties by cherishing those rights and privileges that they do have.

And that is the real challenge of a school like WSG – not just educating girls, but also empowering them to be able to navigate and be successful in a world where they are often at a disadvantage. Mary McLeod Bethune understood this challenge well, and in her last will and testament, she included the following:

I LEAVE YOU A THIRST FOR EDUCATION. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.

She further noted the importance of education in elevating and supporting Black Americans in the struggle for equality.  Her vision included a desire to continually bring forth educated Black women and men into our democracy, solidifying our voice in society.

I love her choice of words, in particular, her use of the phrase “a thirst for education.”  It suggests a desire, a longing, a tireless craving for knowledge that is innate to the human condition. We are born hungry and thirsty, and in the most basic sense, we spend our lives seeking to satisfy those urges. MMB wanted Black Americans to thirst for education as we would water – as a life-giving force. Our quality of life is tied to our ability to learn and grow. At WSG, we want girls to love education and to pursue knowledge continuously and wholeheartedly. We want their parents to want to learn with their daughters and to encourage their pursuit of education. We want our families to understand how knowledge can empower them to positively change their lives.

This month, our middle school students are celebrating women who graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like Bethune-Cookman University, founded by none other than MMB herself. By highlighting the role of HBCUs in our collective history, we hope to inspire our girls to pursue their own educational path in ways that recognize and celebrate their personal stories, the stories of Black Women. Because the reality is that the connection to and legacy of Black History in America lives in so many of us every day of the year. That’s why Mary McLeod Bethune’s vision is so important to our school, and why our girls celebrate her all year long.