This week, we interviewed Chinwe Onyeagoro, who co-authors Black To School, a publication highlighting lesser-known contributions of Africans and the African diaspora.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your publication about in one sentence?
Black To School is a collective exploring the history and global contributions of Africans (and the diaspora) with the goal of learning from these stories, drawing inspiration, and enacting positive change in our own lives, homes, and communities.
What inspired you to start?
It all started with a simple idea: to make Black history, beyond slavery, common knowledge for all. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, I was both encouraged by the surge in interest about Black lives and stories and simultaneously disappointed by the overwhelming focus on tragedy and suffering as the defining narrative for Black people.
As a mother of two toddlers, and a tech entrepreneur, I wanted to make sure my children and their peers grow up understanding this key point: Black history doesn’t begin with slavery and doesn’t end with the civil rights movement.
I was also directly inspired by the Saturday School movement in the U.K., a supplementary cultural education on African history for young people. The achievements of Saturday School students—internationally celebrated philosopher, writer, and rapper Akala, for example—speak volumes about the importance of sharing information and well-rounded representation.
Founding members and Black designers Ama Cobbina, Kristen Williams, and Taylor Thompson joined the cause, and we formed a collective with regular meetings with the aim to create a newsletter that would capture the full impact of Black people on a global scale.
What’s the driving idea behind the topics you cover?
It’s unthinkable that Greek history would be reduced to their 500 years of enslavement by the Romans. Were that the case, we’d have missed out on the 7,000 years that came before, including the Olympic Games, the birth of modern city-states, and the philosophy of Aristotle and Socrates. What many people don’t realize (or teach) is that the same is true of Black history.
The diaspora has truly delivered some of the world’s most significant innovations: from the first calculators and written language to the earliest sustainable energy, personal computing, celestial exploration, and so much more. We reach across the African diaspora through various locations and time periods to show the breadth of contributions and impact.
“The diaspora has truly delivered some of the world’s most significant innovations: from the first calculators and written language to the earliest sustainable energy, personal computing, celestial exploration.”
You share deeply researched information organized around themes. How do you decide which stories and themes you’re going to explore?
Black To School focuses on specific and universal themes like wealth, literature, and technology. These are topics that everyone, regardless of age or background, can be interested in.
What’s an essential but little-known story of Black excellence you think everyone should know?
Who really invented that common household item you use daily? How did the music of Africa influence genres that we hear worldwide today? What can an ancient bone teach us about the history of math? If you’re looking for a wealth of information, check out our past issues.
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
Roxane Gay’s The Audacity, The Free Black Women’s Library, and Carefree Magazine.
Subscribe to Black To School on Substack, join the Black To School community on Slack and find writers Chinwe, Kristen, Ama and Taylor on Twitter and Instagram.
What to Read: Black To School is making Black history common knowledge