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This Black History Month, the world witnessed a revolutionary movement in film. Black Panther, the first Marvel movie directed by a Black filmmaker and the first to feature a predominantly Black cast, smashed box office records, earning more than $700 million worldwide during its first two weekends. The blockbuster is now on track to become the highest grossing solo superhero movie in history.

But Black Panther also reignited a revolutionary movement for representation and inclusivity. From Oakland, California to Lagos, Nigeria, families, communities, and schools turned a movie premiere into an all-out cultural event. Thousands of Black moviegoers coordinated traditional African outfits to wear to the film’s opening. And many more took to Twitter to explain #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe. As Mirel Herrera noted with Disney’s 2017 release of Coco, representation is powerful and it matters — and especially so in our nation’s increasingly diverse classrooms.

As a former teacher, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the critical lessons that education leaders can learn from the movie, particularly the African nation of Wakanda. Though fictional, Wakanda allowed us to explore the possibilities of a nation where Black people are viewed as superheroes with insurmountable strength, agility, and intellect to transform the world. A nation where Black girls and women are entrusted as generals, warriors, and leaders in technological advancements crucial to the survival of a country. A place where blackness was synonymous with royalty, courageousness, and brilliance. The nation thrived because the collective environment was one that affirmed, valued, and supported Black identity.

A wealth of research already shows that Black teachers and leaders have significant impact on student outcomes. While education leaders at all levels continue important efforts to recruit teachers of color, Wakanda challenges us to consider the possibilities when entire school systems are not only recruiting but valuing, affirming, and supporting Black leaders. The “invisible tax” experienced by so many Black teachers across the nation simply did not exist in Wakanda. Why? Because the culture was one of inclusion, support, and adequate representation.

Essentially, Wakanda was a culturally responsive nation where identity was valued and actively embedded into every learning experience. While we cannot travel to Wakanda, we can ensure that teachers in classrooms, principals in schools, and leaders in school systems support the affirmation of all students. This is what culturally responsive pedagogy does.

When school systems make a choice to adopt culturally responsive pedagogy, it reminds every student that they matter. That pride in their identity is not a threat, but rather a necessity. A necessity that can foster their academic achievement, social responsibility, and prepare them for the society that lies ahead of them.

As powerful as it is to watch young Black boys and girls erupt in pure joy when they learned their schools would be taking them to see Black Panther, there’s an even more vital opportunity to replicate this joy within our school environments. And to witness first-hand the endless possibilities that lie ahead when we actively create educational experiences that affirm, value, and support Black students and leaders.

Black Panther is not just a movie, its message has the power to reignite a revolutionary education movement toward representation, affirmation, and inclusivity — toward culturally responsive school systems. Representation matters. It’s time education leaders recognize that.

Samantha Kobbah is a spring 2018 Communications intern. She is a former teacher, and currently a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Administration (MPA) at American University. 

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