A Madison middle school employee shares positive images of Black history, culture and experiences through student group

MADISON, Wis. — Dionte Prewitt never learned about many positive things during Black History Month when he was going to school. He said much of the information he knows now about the successes and achievements of Black figures, he learned through a college friend who was studying ancient Egypt.

After one year of working as the Student Engagement Coordinator at Cherokee Heights Middle School, he took it upon himself to create and lead the Black Student Voices Group to be the mentor and source of knowledge on these topics for his students, something he never had growing up.

“I help students in middle school find their voice,” Prewitt said. “The kids are the future. If they gets this knowledge and information earlier, both sides, not just Black students, but all students, then our society is going to be a lot better because they’re going to take it on in the future to have a better understanding of how racism started, what Black people were doing before slavery and the greatness that they had.”

Every Tuesday, Prewitt hosts two back-to-back sessions with about 10 students. He said most students are Black or mixed-race and identify as Black, but the sessions are open to all students. During the sessions, Prewitt focuses on positive Black culture, people, voices and experiences.

“I research great voices of the past, motivational speakers, great quotes from Black people that inspire youth, inspire me, inspire them,” Prewitt said. “There’s a lot of negativity they see on social media. I believe that you need to combat that on a daily basis by filling them up with knowledge, history, encouragement and things like that.”

Prewitt said it is important for students to learn about slavery, but that needs to be balanced with accomplishments to show the students they can thrive even in the face of adversity.

“Before slavery we were doing a lot of great things and those are things that should never be forgotten,” he said.

Prewitt said students were surprised to hear about some accomplishments from Black figures of our past, including that Black people invented paper, developed the alphabet and that a Black man was the richest man in history.

“That was definitely a big one. They were amazed when they found that out,” Prewitt said. “I mentioned Mansa Musa. They did not know he was the richest man in history. They were saying Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates and I was like, ‘Nah, somebody that had a little bit more money than them.'”

As an incentive for students to keep coming back every week, Prewitt ends his sessions with a drawing for students to win a free pizza that he personally delivers to the student’s home every Thursday. Prewitt is hopeful that his work inspires more students to join in the years to come so that one day, Black History Month is something celebrated all year long.

“Seeing them show up and then when they learn new things, the response I get, you know like, ‘I didn’t know that, thank you for having this class. I would have never known’, that really warms my heart and just motivates me to find more stuff for them to learn and I look forward to seeing them every week.”