TEMPLE, Texas — Three classrooms at Temple High School understood the assignment just a little differently than the rest.
During Black History Month Assistant Principal Courtney Mitchell takes the reigns with finding ways to integrate black history education into the month's curriculum. This year, she had a unique idea to allow classrooms all throughout the school to teach about black history with something as simple as a door.
The task sounds easy.
Decorate your door with black history art, literature, whatever you choose. That straightforward task turned into an opportunity for some classrooms to not only teach but also inspire others.
"We chose the afro to be different and show its beauty," Temple High School Senior Ayana Parker said. "We also did it to really embrace the black history movement."
Ayana is one of many cosmetology students at Temple High School who has a passion for hair care. She says when she gets older she even hopes to own her own hair salon. But for her, this door decorating contest was an opportunity to send a powerful message -- anyone can be beautiful.
"We just started looking up ideas and we saw the afro so we feel like we were like, we should do that one," Parker said. "I want them to see the beauty in it and really embrace it and see that anyone can be beautiful."
Natural hair is a popular topic of discussion in the black community. For years it was frowned upon to wear your natural hair in public, especially as a woman. But now, young girls like Ayana and her classmates are trying to encourage black women and young girls to proudly wear their hair the way it is.
But her teacher, Melissa Coppage, played a big role in inspiring Ayana and her classmates to even get the ball rolling.
"Our teacher Ms. Coppage said that we should decorate a door, we all got excited. We were like yes, we should," Parker said.
Coppage comes from a household with a black husband and three black children, all girls, who wear locks. She says that it is important to help them feel comfortable wearing their natural hair with all the scrutiny they face as young women.
"One of the reasons why we chose these natural hairstyles versus hairstyles that were more processed, is because I think it's beautiful, to be able to embrace the natural state of hair," Coppage said. "A lot of times the natural state of hair can be considered to be a little bit intimidating. People who don't understand it, are often afraid of it."
Coppage says black girls and black women should have no fear. Be comfortable in your own skin. Break the mold and ultimately, do you.
"I am just so grateful to have had the opportunity to be able to expose everybody to this project," Coppage said. "This is this has been very important to me. So I'm grateful for that."
Another classroom made a powerful statement with the door they decorated in the freshman wing of the school.
Mirella Jaimez and Taylor Veselka decided to participate in the door decorating contest, but with the hope of teaching a hard-hitting lesson to their students.
"When the idea came to us, we kind of thought well, why not show Ruby Bridges like as she was when she was younger and then as she is now and how she's an activist," Veselka, an English Teacher at Temple High School said. "They were very shocked to see how it was not that long ago that they were dealing with these issues in the United States."
Ruby Bridges was the first black child to attend an integrated school after the Brown v. Board of Education verdict in 1960. Living in New Orleans at the time, Bridges had to be escorted by Federal Marshals as a six-year-old. Today, Bridges is still an active fighter for black equality at the age of 67, which puts a lot of things in perspective.
"We wanted to highlight that she is a lot younger than my grandmother at this moment," Jaimez said. "Ruby Bridges is very much thriving at this time. She's 67. She's an active activist."
Jaimez is a daughter of Mexican immigrants and an ESL teacher at Temple High. She paired up with Veselka to create a then and now door decoration to remind Temple High students about the courage it took for her to desegregate an all-white school.
Jaimez says she teaches predominantly Hispanic students and teaches her students how simple actions can change a bigger picture.
"Thanks to this one simple act of Ruby Bridges. One of my best friends that I grew up with who is white, I get to have that friendship because of this one simple act in 1960."
Something as simple as a door opened up an avenue for different ways to educate a community about race and culture. Jaimez and Veselka were even awarded first place for their artwork and after hours of working with the kids during and after school, it was definitely worth it.
"We stayed Monday through Thursday with the students because we did put in a lot of time, Taylor and I off to the side but with students Monday through Thursday, right after school," Jaimez said. " But it was overall a great feeling. You know, hard work does pay off and that's what this project showed off to the kids. What you put in is what you'll receive and they've been acknowledged as well."
As Black History Month comes to a close, it's important to remember still that black history is every day. Students and teachers like these at Temple High serve as a reminder that through education and collaboration, we can enlighten others on issues we may not normally think about.
Ultimately, the goal is what it's always been for decades, education and equality.
"It just brings joy to know how many people there were to do it and support it," Ayana Parker said on behalf of her class recognizing just how many classes participated in the contest overall. "Because you never know how many there are until they do it."
Teaching and inspiring, one day and one door at a time.