Ancestors unKnown supports the Humanities

Ancestors unKnown supports the Humanities

by Dana Saxon

With so much anxiety and fury circulating about the President’s recently proposed budget, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the calls to action. So many important agencies and programs are threatened by this administration. If they get their way, the United States will be nearly unrecognizable by 2019.

While I’ll make every effort to fight against all of these shameful proposals, I’d like to offer a special shout of support for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).


Founded in 1965, NEH is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the U.S. According to their website, “NEH serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.” With an annual budget of less than $150 million, they fund books, lectures, documentaries, archiving projects, and all types of education initiatives. Just a browse through the NEH Grant Opportunities is an inspiring exercise.

Ancestors unKnown received an early show of support from NEH with a small grant in 2013, just when I needed the encouragement to get started.

When I first had the inkling of an idea about Ancestors unKnown, the organization’s focus and name were still unclear. I referred to it as “some kind of student-oriented program that teaches young people about where they come from.” The lack of name was good enough for an idea that might not even have a chance to succeed. Who would fund something like this? How could I be sure people would care about an organization that prioritized history and heritage?

Naturally, I looked at the availability of government funding. Because, if I could diversify the organization’s funding with some private and government funds, the idea could have a chance (as annoying as managing a government grant may be, they can be substantial enough to make the headache worthwhile).

So what’s the right agency to ask for funding, the Department of Education? Nope.

NEH clearly stood out as the fairy tale funder for Ancestors unKnown, with its delightful mentions of history, heritage and education all over its website. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged. With this number of opportunities that I could access in the future, my budding organization felt instantly validated.

I started small, receiving a mini-grant from NEH shortly after the organization was named Ancestors unKnown. And since then, I’ve kept an eye on the big grants, foolishly waiting for the right time to apply for a larger sum of money. Because another thing happened when I discovered NEH funding priorities – I took for granted that these opportunities would always exist.

Last week, NEH Chairman, William D. Adams, released a statement in response to the President’s budget proposal:

The budget requests no funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1. …We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as NEH has made significant contributions to the public good over its 50-year history.

NEH’s elimination is a heartbreaking prospect.

So please, for all of humanity and the humanities, include NEH in your outcry against the many issues that we’re facing. Call, mail, visit or picket your local congresspeople. Let them know this matters before it’s lost in the troubling shuffle.

Our history is at stake.



The history class achievement gap

The history class achievement gap

Why are Black and Latino students being outperformed by their classmates in U.S. History classes?

History is an important subject. Beyond historical knowledge, students are focusing on topics and skills that benefit them personally and academically, including critical thinking, personal reflection, political engagement, and identity development.

So when we see an achievement gap for Black and Latino students in U.S. history, their lower test scores require a closer look.  Read more

Our memories are a revolution

Our memories are a revolution

Howard Zinn (1922-2010), among other talents, was an historian, social activist, author, and all-around great thinker. Recognizing that so many people and their life stories have been pushed to the margins of U.S. history, Zinn was consistently critical of society’s selective memory.

So why is society’s memory so selective? Why are only a few people identified as “heroes,” while others are designated as “victims” of history? Why are many of us told that our histories are insignificant or forgotten? Why are so many of us incapable of naming our great grandparents or describing their incredible accomplishments, including both heroism and survival? Read more

Summer assignment: Talk about family

Summer assignment: Talk about family

It’s summertime! And if you’re experiencing summer anything like we are, you think it’s going by way too quickly. Next thing you know, it’ll be time to pack a lunch and head back to school – or at least make sure your children are heading back to somebody’s classroom. But before summer is a wrap, spend some extra quality time with the young people in your life, and you’ll have an incredibly positive influence.

So how are you taking advantage of the remaining weeks of the summer break, when your children are spending more time in your classroom?

Here’s an idea: share some family stories. Read more

Crushing the spirit of freedom: When history won’t stop repeating

Crushing the spirit of freedom: When history won’t stop repeating

In 2016, Black Americans continue to struggle for justice and equality.

Unarmed men and women are denied all constitutional rights when they are murdered [intentional use of the criminal term] by law enforcement officers – most of whom continue to go unpunished. It’s an absurd denial of basic human rights that we see in the United States. And it’s so deeply embedded, so deeply rooted, that you can point to almost any year in the country’s history to find similar examples.

What has changed in the 151 years that Black people have been “free” in the United States? Not nearly enough. Read more

How do you define family?

How do you define family?

Happy belated Mother’s Day to all of the Mamas out there!

Where would we be without our mothers? This includes the women and men who have assumed the roles of motherhood – whether they gave birth to someone or not.

Thankfully, we live in a time that no longer applies a one-dimensional definition to motherhood or family. Today, our mothers, parents, and families come in all forms, with many voices and diverse approaches to get us where we’re going in this crazy thing called life.

So is it up to us to create our own definitions and expectations of family?

This has us thinking about an important lesson in the Ancestors unKnown curriculum:

The meaning and purpose of family

Read more

Students in Charleston hear from an expert

Students in Charleston hear from an expert

When the experts come to the classroom, we listen!

Knowing where I come from will help me know where I am going. – DeQuan, Grade 9

In addition to the Ancestors Curriculum, we invite local experts to visit our partnering teachers’ classrooms to introduce students to topics related to genealogy research and untold histories.

Earlier this month, Ms. Avis Johnson’s students at R.B. Stall High School in North Charleston, S.C. were lucky to get a visit from Dr. Melissa Cooper, Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina. With generous sponsorship from USC’s Institute for Southern Studies, this is Dr. Cooper’s second visit to Stall in support of Ancestors unKnown.

So why is she one of the students’ favorite guest lecturers? Read more