This week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted, “Happy MLK Day,” with a photo of the legendary freedom fighter and a quote from his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. Two days later, in a rejection letter to the College Board, DeSantis’ Florida Department of Education said that the course material of a high school Advanced Placement African American Studies class was not “historically accurate,” had “no educational value” and violated Florida law.
Though the law was not explicitly named in the rejection letter, one can only assume the Individual Freedom bill (previously known as the Stop W.O.K.E Act) that DeSantis passed last year is the law in question. The law, where woke was used as an acronym for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” was designed to prohibit instruction that could make certain people feel responsible for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin. This is just the latest attack on Black Floridians and should enrage and embolden those who purport to believe in justice.
In 2012, I was a student at the University of Florida when Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy living in Florida, was killed by a racist vigilante named George Zimmerman in a gated neighborhood in an Orlando suburb. During that time, I had taken Black history courses on campus and I visited the Mississippi Delta with the university’s renowned Oral History Project to learn about the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement. Trayvon’s tragic death was one that would set me on a course to seek justice for the rest of my life.
In the months that followed Trayvon’s killing, a groundswell of people across the country rose up to fight for justice in the name of the child that was taken too soon. Among them were college students and alumni in Florida who called themselves the Dream Defenders. We marched across the state to hold Zimmerman– and the police that hadn’t arrested him for 40 days– accountable. This group became an organization that has been serving the community and fighting for justice in Florida since 2012. I am one of its co-founding members and its newest Co-Executive Director.
In August of 2021, the College Board decided that it would try out a new Advanced Placement African American studies course in about 60 high schools–the first rigorous African American studies class in Florida. The board planned for the course to be multidisciplinary and address not just history, but civil rights, politics, literature, the arts, and geography.
The fight for liberation for Black people and marginalized individuals continues, especially in Florida– a state that is being governed by one of the most hateful and oppressive governors of our time. The state of Florida’s Department of Education (DOE) rejected the Advanced Placement African American Studies course because “it lacks educational value and historical accuracy,” according to a letter sent to the College Board by the state. This decision was spearheaded by Governor Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis is one of the most hateful and oppressive governors of our time. Since DeSantis’ inauguration as Florida’s 46th Governor, he has endlessly fought to suppress Black political power here. He also continuously promotes anti-immigration policies, suppresses voting rights, criminalizes peaceful protests, and attacks the LGBTQ community. Instead of focusing on the economic woes of this state and improving our quality of life, DeSantis continues his culture war as he targets people in Florida who don’t look like him.
The banning of AP African American Studies is an intimidation tactic. Students won’t have the opportunity to learn the history of resistance to the kind of oppression Ron DeSantis furthers in Florida. I attended the University of Florida. Without the classes I took on race while a student at the school, I may have not become the Dream Defenders’ co-founding member or its Co-Executive Director.
We were initially told that those who supported banning Critical Race Theory from classrooms were not against the teaching of Black History, but now we see the truth. Our history has long been treated as illegitimate. An AP African American Studies course includes more than just history, making it very educational despite Florida’s lawmakers saying the course “lacks educational value”.
DeSantis has his sights set on the White House—and potentially this kind of repression on a federal level–– so stay woke!