Be You with Margaret Newton
Margaret Newton, A Force for Change in Education
Margaret is a member of BeWellPBC’s Stewardship Council who holds an important place in the Black history of Palm Beach County. Twelve years ago, she was appointed by the school district to develop the curriculum for all classrooms to teach African and African American studies, the first of its kind in the state of Florida. As an educator for twenty years, and now a district volunteer, Margaret recognized how important the curriculum was for the mental health of children of color and how they see themselves.
Q: How did you see the connection between the curriculum you developed and children’s mental health?
Margaret: Children need to be involved in learning about themselves. Before, people of color were left out as examples of what makes American great. Black leaders who fought for our freedoms. People of color who invented things that we use every day. There was little understanding of Blackness. It’s very important that children know that they are worthy and that they are here on earth for a purpose. They can be proud human beings because they are Black.
Q: When did you see a breakthrough as a result of teaching African and African American studies?
Margaret: A number of years ago, the leader of the Roots Cultural Festival of Delray Beach that celebrates black heritage came to me and asked about putting one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa on event T-shirts. We had been teaching about it in the schools and I saw that the request was a direct result from helping to inform the district and the community. The shirts were printed with the Swahili word “umoja,” which means unity.
Q: What do you see in this moment as history plays out before our eyes and its impact on mental health?
Margaret: I see chaos for a while to mentally understand what is going on. It takes a while to change minds, but I see a solidarity in the Black community. I see a solidarity in the younger generation of all colors. They are giving me hope. We are now shaping and reshaping the moral aspects of America, and our mental health is being changed from obeying laws to obeying because morally it is the right thing to do. Black Lives Matter points to the deaths saying that morally it is wrong to kill and they are going after the mental image that the country has of different populations—and the image we have of ourselves. If there is a mass shooting, my first thought is, “I hope he wasn’t Black.” I have been schooled if a Black person does something wrong that all of us are to blame.
Q: How can people get involved and learn more about African and African American culture?
Margaret: They can join me for the Sankofa Study Group Inc., where I serve as president. We are a diverse group of 50 people who study all aspects of the African diaspora and meet the last Saturday of each month on Zoom. We are currently reading Stamped from the Beginning. To join, contact Pyramid Books at 561-731-4422 and ask for Denise. All are welcome!