Telling Black History
Through a project called BLK WINS, Jazmyn Pratt, ‘12, is leveraging her communication degree to tell the world there is more to history than what we learn in school.
February is Black History Month. For 28 — sometimes 29 — days out of the year, Black history is placed front and center in our collective consciousness. Major corporations send out inspirational messages reminding us to honor this history while social media is awash in memes showcasing famous Black Americans. Come March 1, the calendar flips, and the spotlight shifts.
In recent years there has been a sustained effort to keep that spotlight focused on the experience and achievements of Black America, specifically in the classroom. When it comes to public education there are all kinds of requirements about what needs to be taught and yet only a handful of states actually require public schools to teach Black history, but that could be changing.
In March 2021, the Washington State Board of Education adopted a non-binding resolution to establish a statewide ethnic studies graduation requirement. The state legislature passed a law in 2019 that required state education officials to develop ethnic studies materials for use in grades 7-12; a separate law in 2020 extended this requirement to kindergarten through sixth grade. This expansion comes with a simultaneous retraction. Several states recently passed laws that restrict what can and cannot be taught in the classroom, specifically when it comes to topics of race and racism.
For context, the National Museum of African American History and Culture conducted a survey in 2015 called “Research into the State of African American History and Culture in K-12 Public Schools.” Survey organizers polled 525 elementary, middle and high school teachers which included 72 in-depth interviews and five focus groups. The results showed that only “8-9 percent of total class time was devoted to Black history in U.S. history classrooms.”
When it comes to instruction, lessons on Black history in K-12 classrooms tend to focus solely on enslavement, the Civil War and civil rights. The lack of a national standard when it comes to Black history means states have the freedom to decide what subjects will be taught. The result is a hodgepodge of information, one critics of the current system contend misrepresents Black history.
Like many people, Jazmyn Pratt, ‘12, watched the video of George Floyd’s murder with a mix of outrage and horror. Protestors responded by taking to the streets in cities across the United States, including Los Angeles where Pratt lives. “I wanted to do something to make an impact,” she said. “I protested but protests end.”
Pratt’s younger brother Aaron lives in Tacoma. He called his sister to talk about George Floyd’s death. “He asked if I wanted to do something that lasts,” said Jazmyn Pratt. The pair brought in artist Perry Porter and marketing tech Chris Lee Hill. The group brainstormed and came up with a project they called BLK WINS. “So much of the Black history that is taught in schools focuses on the negative,” said Jazmyn Pratt. “We decided we wanted to talk about the wins, about really important things and events that aren’t covered but are still equally important and should be taught.”
Born in Tacoma, Pratt spent most of her formative years living in the city or surrounding areas including University Place and Spanaway. Pratt graduated from Spanaway Lake High School in 2008 and started at Tacoma Community College (TCC) a few months later. A first-generation college student, Pratt’s decision to continue her education was informed, in part, by her mother. “I didn’t know I was supposed to apply for college in high school, I didn’t know that stuff,” said Jazmyn Pratt. “I asked my mom what I was supposed to do after high school and she said, ‘You’re going to TCC.’”
Pratt originally intended to pursue a business degree but found the subject did not suit her interests. She wanted to pursue a career in radio. “My mom’s oldest brother is a radio DJ and when I was six he put me on the radio,” she said. Pratt helped record a commercial for the annual Kids’ Choice Awards. “We’d be driving down the street later on and the commercial would play and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s me.’”
Something about that experience stuck with Pratt and ultimately influenced her decision to pursue a degree in communication at UW Tacoma. “For the first time ever, I felt like I was learning about something real,” she said. “When I was at UW Tacoma, I was blown away at how much they were teaching me that was relevant to real life.”
Pratt’s coursework provided her with the tools to think critically about the way information is presented. “I learned what to look for and how to be an active listener,” she said. Pratt thrived at UW Tacoma and ended up developing relationships she maintains to this day. “I could have gone to UW in Seattle, but I needed a more intimate setting,” she said. “I wanted the teacher to know my name. I wanted to be able to raise my hand and ask the question and have them say, ‘Yes, Jazmyn?’“
Pratt found what she was looking for on campus. “I had a great experience here, specifically with Ellen Moore,” said Pratt. “I took every class with her that I could,” said Pratt. “I loved her teaching and her teaching style, she definitely made an impression on my life when it comes to media, when it comes to communication.”
Getting Started in Radio
Pratt graduated from UW Tacoma in 2012. Afterward, she focused her energies on pursuing a career in radio. She spent three weeks in Washington, D.C., with her uncle, learning the ropes. “He really taught me the basics,” said Pratt. She followed this up by completing a certificate program in broadcasting at Green River College. “I ended up hosting my own show on the Green River radio station, KGRG, for four years,” she said. “It was a hip-hop show called The Block.
The show aired once a week which meant Pratt needed to work multiple jobs. She took a part-time position at the Bellevue-based radio station MOViN 92.5. Pratt also worked at her mother’s Lakewood-based property management company. The then-twenty-something left her position at 92.5 and at the property management company to work full-time at the streaming service Napster. “I was a music programming specialist and part of my responsibilities included putting together playlists for different audiences,” she said. “It was a really fun job but it wasn’t quite what I wanted.”
Pratt wanted a full-time gig hosting her own radio show. She continued hosting The Block and also started co-hosting a show on the community radio station Rainier Avenue Radio. For years, Pratt had considered moving to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. “L.A. is a big place full of opportunities and it’s also close to Washington so I could go home when I wanted,” she said. “I decided it was the right time to go.”
Pratt moved to Los Angeles and soon found work at a property management company. She also started her own podcast called Broke Girl in LA. “Everyone has their own L.A. story,” she said. “I would go around interviewing people and ask them to talk about their lives and their experience in the city.”
The show fulfilled a need and allowed Pratt a chance to further develop her style. She looked at positions at radio stations but did not have success. After a few years Pratt decided to end her podcast and focus on her career in property management. “I was hard on myself,” she said. “I knew this wasn’t the recipe for success, that I needed to get my fire back.”
Stoking the Fire
George Floyd’s murder stoked that fire. Jazmyn Pratt and her brother Aaron, along with Perry Porter and Chris Lee Hill, got busy developing their vision for BLK WINS.” “We knew we wanted to do something around history, but in a way that is accessible,” said Jazmyn Pratt. “We wanted to let people know that you didn’t need to be a scholar to teach something.”
The group put together a crowdfunding campaign that would allow them to tell the stories they wanted to tell in the way they wanted to tell them. The BLK WINS website is sleek with distinctive artistic touches spread throughout. The group has created a series of polished and engaging videos, the first focusing on “Black Wall Street'' in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jazmyn Pratt acts as the host on these videos and, in keeping with the project’s mission, she spends a majority of the video talking not about the massacre that destroyed “Black Wall Street,” but about the people who lived there and why they were so successful.
The Tacoma Art Museum commissioned BLK WINS to produce a video about Black history in Tacoma to commemorate the museum’s showing of the Kinsey Collection. The group is currently working on a piece about The Black Panthers, a subject with special significance to Pratt. “In school I was told that the Panthers were a terrorist organization, but my dad told a different story,” she said. “He grew up in Tacoma and told me about how as a young boy he participated in the free breakfast program put on by the Panthers.”
Besides creating content, the group is also busy working to secure nonprofit status which will allow them to apply for grants. The goal is to continue making videos and growing their platform. “This is our way to give back,” said Pratt. “We want to inspire future generations and to show them there’s more to history than what they’re being taught.”