SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – For students of Joe Cummiskey’s history class, learning about the contributions Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made means also learning how students can impact society in a positive way.
“The concern is the world we live in. How do we justify burning a city? How do we justify innocent police officers being executed? How do we justify that people wake up in the morning and feel they’re gonna be judged differently because of the color of their skin?” asked Cummiskey, a history teacher at Winter Springs High School who focuses on politics, government and U.S. history.
The army veteran said he uses the events that happened in 2020 after George Floyd’s death and protests that followed, to give students a chance to voice their concerns.
“It’s about exposing the kids to more information, allowing them to mold their own opinions,” he said. “The events of 2020 absolutely had an impact. But I think the words of Dr. King: ‘Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,’” he said “So my question to the students right now: Are you going to be that stone of hope? And if you are, how are you going to do that?”
As we commemorate Dr. King Jr.’s legacy, Cummiskey said it’s an educator’s job to teach students how they can bring the community together despite differences in opinion, race or political beliefs.
“People should be judged on the character of their actions and that’s what Dr. King told us. That’s what he wanted his 4 children to be based on,” he said. “We’re students of history. And we’re living in history right now and that we can’t be afraid to give the students a platform to discuss and learn about what’s going on and how do we move forward.”
And moving forward is what the Brevard Federation of teachers has been doing since November. The president of the union said they’ve been working with the county school district to incorporate in the school curriculum the life work of the couple referred to as the martyrs of the civil rights movement: Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore. Their voices were silenced on Christmas eve 1951 after a bomb left underneath their home exploded.
“Their contributions to the civil rights movement in Florida and across the country were enormous and we think that it’s critical that our students right here in Brevard see that Brevardians can make a huge impact on a just cause,” said Anthony Colucci, president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers.
It was the Moores, considered the pioneers of the civil rights movement, who launched the first NAACP chapter in Brevard County and helped register to vote 116,000 African Americans.
“A big piece of that is we’re asking for a mandatory field trip for all eighth graders to the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex,” Colucci said. “The Moores have a long list of accomplishments in the Civil Rights movement from trying to equalize teacher’s salary between black and white teachers to Harry T and Harriette V. investigating lynchings, other injustices throughout the state.”
But Colucci said it’s also about the school district recognizing an unjust decision by the district for having fired the Moores because of their activism.
“They were unjustly not re-hired by the Brevard County School Board because of their political activism. So, the first thing we’re asking is that the school district recognize their accomplishments as educators, as civil rights, and apologize for firing them back in 1946,” Colucci said.
According to the Brevard County School district superintendent, they’re welcoming the idea of including the Moores’ legacy in the school curriculum, starting at the fourth-grade level.
“There’s no question the Moores were educators for Brevard schools. There’s been a request to re-instate them as educators our Brevard Public schools’ general counselor is looking into that to understand what that would mean and what the implications are and that sort of thing,” superintendent Dr. Mark Mullins said. “We’ll do what we can to clearly understand the history of that time but whatever the outcome, whatever that decision is, that is not weighing in on our commitment and our interest to elevate the life work of the Moores and the contributions they made.”