The 1619 Project: Sullivan High School’s Edition

Photo by Olamide Olaleye

By: Olamide Olaleye (Sullivan Senior), Iqmat Adeyemi (Sullivan Junior), Favour Mamudu (Sullivan Senior), Feyisara Olaleye (Sullivan Sophomore)

The 1619 project was established in August 2019 by Nikole Hanna-Jones to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia. 

This magazine project was initiated and re-examined by Nikole Hanna-Jones. It is now a project that some Sullivan High school students are working on because it teaches more about race, slavery and it puts Black Americans at the core of U.S. history. It covers the implications of slavery and the accomplishment of Black Africans as they are a part of the core of the United States. 

Teachers and students in the Sullivan Global Issues class were interviewed on these issues. Some argue that everyone has the right to know and learn about America’s true history and that not including the 1619 project in the curriculum is equivalent to erasing a significant piece of history. 

Rebecca Coven, the Global Issues teacher at Sullivan High School, shared her thoughts about the 1619 project and the reasons why it should be included in the curriculum.

“I think what the 1619 project does is that it teaches students to think critically about the information that is presented in school to question whose voices are been represented and whose voices are been left out and I think that is a critically thinking skill that should be applied to any task not just to the 1619 project of not just learning about slavery,¨ Coven said. 

Coven, who grew up in a majority white neighborhood, didn’t realize the historical roots of systemic racism until she went to college. 

“We don’t spend enough time talking about what Black people have contributed to our country, the intervention, the wealth they’ve contributed to our country, the resistance they’ve contributed to our country,” Coven said. “My hope is that doing the 1619 projects helps students see themselves or people who look like them in a positive light that how I think it should be taught in all schools.”

Cyriac Mathew, the Civics and Ethics teacher, grew up similarly to Coven and did really get to understand the impact slavery had on the U.S. until he went to college. While some argue that this issue of race and racial history should not be taught in schools, Mathew encourages it. 

“The people who had issues with the 1619 project or whatever history work come down to the fact that they feel uncomfortable by the true histories of the country and they don’t want to feel uncomfortable by knowing the truth.¨

Mathew also shared the reasons why Black history should be taught in every school. 

“I think the reason we go to school is that the point of education is really understanding growth and if that topic makes them uncomfortable the problem is not what is taught to you and what you know,” Mathew said.

Sidra Zesiger, Sullivan Senior, is a student in the Global Issues class. After learning about how slavery has many influences on the US police system, banking, system, incarceration system, among other systems, she sees the significance of learning about the 1619 project.

Zesiger shared how young people at Sullivan benefit from this new curriculum. 

“Students can walk out of a classroom feeling as if they know how to apply what they have learned into their lives outside of school. We want to create a generation that doesn’t just acknowledge racism, but knows where, and how to act upon the issues at hand,” Zesiger said.

“Our police system, banking system, agricultural policies, our incarceration system, and our education system are the long-lasting legacies of slavery in the United States. To me, it sounds like our government wants to continue to create the illusion that we live in a country built by white people, and only white people. They want to ignore a history that doesn’t favor the ones running it,” Zesiger added. 

Rubi Mendez, a Senior at Sullivan High School, shared her thoughts about the 1619 project and the reasons why it should be included in the curriculum.

“It is important for schools to integrate the 1619 project into the curriculum because it tells the true story of the United States and why we see the problems impacting black and brown communities today.” 

Mendez shared how young people at Sullivan benefit from this new curriculum. 

“Students benefit from learning about this project because it shows how systemic racism works and why there are things like the police. It allows for students to relearn history from a different perspective. I became first aware in elementary school, but we never went any further into it past the ‘abolishment’ and all I really think that meant was putting in other systems to take over slavery’s place.” 


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