BUFFALO, N.Y. — Recently, there has been much discussion about how history is taught in schools. A University at Buffalo professor has made it his mission to expand teaching about African Americans to kids from many different backgrounds.

LaGarrett King believes it needs to begin with history in Africa.

"If the first time that you learn, and generally throughout school, you learn that Black people are enslaved, you typically have that connection that Black people are just people to be owned or people who have no agency or people who need to be surveilled," said King.

She heads the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo. It’s part of the graduate school of education with a mission of investigating and finding solutions for more effective teaching around Black history and race.

"If we get people that have a certain disposition around concepts of diversity, concepts around Black histories and other histories, we could, I think, have a shift in 10 years," King said.

King founded the center after seeing what he calls little improvement in the way the subject is taught since the 19th century.

"One of the biggest issues in Black history education is teachers’ knowledge," said King. "I wanted to create a center where we could improve teachers’ education around Black history."

King believes in training teachers to understand history from a Black perspective — beyond just key dates and events, but rather the emotions of the people who’ve faced anti-Blackness.

"We connect history between good and bad, right? Racism is bad, right? And people do not want to see themselves or see this country or see the world as something bad, but they want to see it as something good," King said. "So it’s really hard for us to say well there’s a system in place that continues to oppress or continues to make society inequitable."

King sees room to grow in both elementary and secondary education — outside of the concepts of slavery and the civil rights movement — and connects those eras with what’s happening now. Through centralized conferences, teachers can network and share resources.

"And we have hundreds of teachers from around the United States and Canada that come in and talk about the best practices about Black history education and many teachers do not have those spaces in their local school districts," King said.

King views Black History Month as a time for celebration and reflection, but has concerns about the political nature of the debate and pushback about teaching the history of racism and discrimination in our schools.

"In an effort to be a historically mature society, we have to understand that all histories, all perspectives and all knowledge are important to improve our democracy," King said.

King says he is optimistic about the number of educators excited to learn and teach more about Black history and the ability of historians to create a positive change in the way race issues are viewed in our country.