Tennessee state Rep. Hakeem vows to bring back Black history education bill in 2022

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ State Representative Yusuf Hakeem.

NASHVILLE - State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, has vowed to return next year with his effort to provide more Black history instruction to Tennessee public school students after the bill was omitted from a summer education study committee.

Hakeem wants to present a well-rounded history of African Americans that doesn't just focus on slavery - including the accomplishments of the military's famed Tuskegee Airmen and the scientist and inventor George Washington Carver.

He has been frustrated by legislative obstacles, saying he was promised consideration for his bill during a summer study session - then was left off the agenda at the direction of House Speaker Cameron Sexton's office.

"I don't want to call it absurd, but you know, you don't have a person go through the entire process with the expectation of discussion taking place and a person sitting in an office, though he is the speaker of the House, makes such a decision at the last minute," said Hakeem, whose bill was among several dozen sent by a House education committee for summer review.

The bill, which affects students in grades 5-8, is intended to provide age-appropriate instruction on Black history to Tennessee public school students, Hakeem said.

"I'm saying I've been over the past three months attempting to get some guidance from the chairman of the committee or somebody, and then at the last minute, you're going to say 'no.' You know, it questions whether there was any intent in the first place to move the bill forward," Hakeem said.

Bills can be sent to summer study for reasons involving the complexity or controversial nature of the legislation. They can also be sent there simply to take it off the table for consideration for the remainder of the year.

"All members know not all bills that are referred to summer study will be able to have a hearing. I encourage [Hakeem] and all of our members to continue working with committee members on their legislative ideas while we are out of session," Sexton said in a statement to the Times Free Press.

Hakeem, who plans to reintroduce his bill next year, said he had trouble reaching House Education Instruction Committee Chair Mark White, R-Memphis.

"I had to go over this with [Hakeem] last night," White told the Times Free Press. "There were 41 bills sent to summer study. Summer study is something that goes through the speaker's office. We had to get permission to proceed on topics or individual bills," White said.

Hakeem's bill wasn't on the approved list, White said.

"I talked to Rep. Hakeem," White said. "We told people months ago what can be on here and what cannot. We told him, next year in session, your bill is still alive [in] working committee. It's got state board issues, it's got Department of Education issues. Let's work it and if we can work it out - we didn't get to that point last session."

While GOP lawmakers didn't pass Hakeem's bill, they later passed a measure banning certain ideas from being taught, such as:

- "An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."

- "This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist."

One of the GOP bill's House proponents had earlier made the motion to ship Hakeem's bill off for summer study.

The educational panel on Wednesday heard lengthy testimony on chronic student absenteeism and truancy.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.