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Arlington teacher helps create Virginia's new high school African American History course

Antoinette Dempsey-Waters. (ABC7)
Antoinette Dempsey-Waters. (ABC7)
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Antoinette Dempsey-Waters is sharing a part of history that isn't frequently told.

"The problem is, and we have to admit it, a lot of teachers don't know the content," she said. "They don't know our story."

Dempsey-Waters is referring to the history of African Americans.

From their early beginnings an ocean away, to the slave trade, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement, and the more recent Black Lives Matter movement.

"It is not a story of persecution,' said Dempsey-Waters. "It is a story of perseverance."

The Arlington educator felt compelled to share that story after visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture shortly after it opened in 2016.

"It really started to touch my heart and I started to cry there," she said.

During that visit, Dempsey-Waters overheard a child ask, "Who are the Tuskegee Airmen?" and was inspired to write an African American history course to help educate young people.

"I'm learning more about how we started in Africa and worked our way into the U.S. and how slavery was, like, really bad," said 17-year-old Jordan Clark.

ABC7 captured Dempsey-Waters teaching the African American Studies course at Wakefield High in 2019. She had just been named Virginia History Teacher of the Year.

"People at the state level heard about what I was doing in Arlington and they wanted a course as well, so I helped write that course too," she said.

Dempsey-Waters joined 12 other content writers to create the new African American History course being offered in 16 school districts in Virginia.

"Now I'm learning from the perspective of what African Americans faced. It's more educational and we actually see both sides of it now," said MeiLi Haan, a junior at Wakefield.

"I feel like it's really crucial especially at these times," 17-year-old Bana Yosief said.

"I'm half Black and half White so I think that it's really good for me to connect with that half of my culture," said 15-year-old Haley Armstrong.

While Dempsey-Waters is pleased that the course is being offered across Virginia, she says there's still more work ahead.

"Training more teachers. Getting it into all of the schools in the state. That's what we want," she said.

The elective African American History course is offered in the following Virginia school districts:

  • Alleghany County
  • Amherst County
  • Arlington County
  • Carroll County
  • Charlottesville
  • Chesterfield County
  • Covington
  • Franklin County
  • Henrico County
  • Henry County
  • Loudoun County
  • Norfolk,
  • Portsmouth
  • Prince William County
  • Suffolk
  • Winchester

Watch more of our interview with Antoinette Dempsey-Waters, where she talks about her inspiration to create the course and the work she's doing now to help get it into more districts, below.

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