On the school playground 52 years ago, the new boy and I giggled and laughed as we stretched ourselves from monkey bar to monkey bar, seeing who could skip the most and reach the farthest. I liked him, had a crush on him the way a second-grader can have a crush. I think he liked me, too.

Off to the side, away from the classes of running-wild children, the teachers watched, stood together and kept an eye. They kept an eye not on all of their turned-loose charges but on the new boy and me. And they chatted. They chatted in a way that, even as a little girl, I knew was unfamiliar, uncomfortable and odd. They watched the new boy and me.

Mark Johnson was the new boy. He didn't stay long in our school. His father was in the military, stationed somewhere that seemed far away from the Lilliputian barrier island on the very south Jersey shore on which I was born and grew up. But the base was only far away in the breadth and depth of a child's imaginings — it was in the next county.

Mark Johnson was Black. He was the first Black child in my school, at least the first one I knew of. There wasn't a Black child in the school when I was a kindergartner or first-grader, nor was there a Black child in the school in the following six years. The next time I had a Black classmate was when I began ninth grade at a regional high school 10 miles away.

Mark was Black. And I was — and am — Jewish. Before Mark arrived (and after he left), my sister and I were the school oddities.

For years, long after Mark and his family moved and I was left without my crush, I thought of Mark, smiling each time I remembered us giggling and laughing on the playground. But my lovely vision always included the teachers closely watching us and talking.

It wasn't until I was far in to adulthood that my lovely memory was interrupted by the question that must have germinated for decades, "As the teachers looked curiously at Mark and me, what did they say to one another, what did they wonder, their voices evaporating and floating away in the spring wind?"

Since childhood and through adulthood — even now — I have been battered by the ugliness of anti-Semitism, just as other minorities have faced the ugliness of racism, or of audism or of any and all sorts of anti-otherism, and, of course, in the case of the female majority, sexism. Yes, I am part of #metoo, a movement founded by an African-American woman.

These days, each time I think and begin to believe that hate and lies are winning — will win — over love and truth and justice, I save myself by thinking of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an Ivy League-educated astrophysicist and, among a legion of accomplishments, award-winning writer, science program and podcast host, head of the Hayden Planetarium, and the first to hold the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.

Tyson's mother is Puerto Rican and a former gerontologist for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and his late father was a professor, a civil rights activist and a child of immigrants from the Caribbean island of Nevis.

"I know of no time in human history where ignorance was better than knowledge," Tyson implores us. "If anyone walks among us who prefers not to know, then leave them behind in the cave while the rest of us step forward, discovering all that the universe reveals while using our minds to save the world (if necessary) but, as a minimum, to make life better for us all."

This year, African-American History Month provides us a particularly remarkable opportunity to focus on the particularly remarkable lives of too-often unknown or overlooked prodigious figures who have courageously and nobly faced torture and death but moved undeterred through hostility and abuse for education and equality and who have worked, as Tyson noted, "to save the world [and] to make life better for us all." Great books are a great place to begin.

"Dictators do not like good writers because they are skilled masons; the builders of myths and destroyers of myths," rightly observed the late Haitian poet, Paul Laraque.

Good writers like multi-prize-winning Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat. Haitian writer Gerard Etienne, tortured under the U.S.-supported Duvalier dictatorship. Haitian writer Jacques-Stephen Alexis, murdered by the Duvalier dictatorship because he promised to fight the dictatorship. Haitian writer Marie Vieux-Chauvet. And so many other Haitian and Haitian-American writers.

Good writers like multi-award winning Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe. Internationally acclaimed Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Senegalese writer, Mariama Bâ, whose "early struggle for education informed her writing, both fictional and critical. [She] has come to be regarded as one of the most original writers to have emerged from west Africa. Her life and work were preoccupied with issues such as gender relations, power and inequality, as well as the ways in which these were framed and affected by African and Islamic cultural beliefs."

And so many, so very many more whose lives are inextricably tied to ours. "Black history is American history," accurately observes Dr. Allison Dorsey, Herron Keyon Gaston and Jamie Gass, among others.

Likewise, as shown in the exhaustive historical research of Yale's Emeritus Sterling Professor of American History, Dr. David Brion Davis, Black history is British history as well. It is Canada's history as well. Black history is our history, whomever we are and wherever we live.

While dictators do not like good writers, they loathe readers of good writers. They are afraid because, as Dr. Ira Hyman writes, "Even if someone lies, the truth eventually comes out.” But Dr. Hyman worries, “Too many people may have too many rewards for the lies they are telling.” By reading good writers and becoming critical readers, we are prepared to counter the current daily avalanche of lies and hate and all manner of injustice, which is one way to find the truth "when finding the truth seems impossible."

List of resources

A wealth of valuable lesson plans and reputable resources exist for educators and all-level learners. Many resources are books or articles, but as many are multimedia and can and do form the basis for project-based learning.

Here are some of the finest, a few of which also appear on my list of resources for historical context, below. Please see those highlighted, as they are especially timely.

Books and articles

Interviews, programs (TV, DVD, Blu-ray)

Lesson plans and resources

Well-researched and critically analyzed history provides the always-necessary context. Here are some excellent resources: