“I think it’s important just to understand the history and to understand that for many years, African-Americans weren’t highlighted, weren’t put on the forefront, weren’t given a lot of recognition and credit for achievements they’ve made,” she said.
Stukes said learning about prominent black figures and inventors like Lewis Latimer, who was integral in the creation of the lightbulb, teaches black students and students of color that they can “be anything you want to be.”
But as an educator who has worked in both South Carolina and the Johnson City Schools system, Stukes said teaching that is a year-long endeavor that goes beyond February.
Stukes was recognized as a top educator in 2018 by African-American Health, Education, Religion and News Inc. Throughout her years in education, she said she’s met students who’ve never had a black principal or teacher before, reminding her of a student she once taught years ago.
“I think for her, it was like, ‘Wow, I see someone that’s my teacher that kind of looks like me.’ It helps them understand you can grow up and be a teacher, too,” she said.
Stukes said she’s thankful to have a platform to be a “positive role model for all ethnicities.” She said this is part of what makes Black History Month and promoting diversity among educators important.
"I believe it is important to have diverse educators in our city schools because our city is diverse. This year, Johnson City Schools has 58 languages spoken by families at home. That means that it is important that we respect other people and their differences,” she said. “It is crucial that every child knows and understands that they can be anything in this world that they want to be if they’re willing to work hard and put forth their best effort.
“If students don’t see adults that look similar to them putting this idea into action, they may never actually grow up believing it.”
Stukes said celebrating black history “looks different in different cities and states, depending on where you live.”
While the city district has come a long way since integration in the ’60s, Johnson City remains largely homogenous compared to some other parts of the country. In Johnson City, nearly 85% of the population is white, while less than 7% of residents are black.
“I don’t think people here are opposed to learning about black history,” she said. “It’s just for so many years, it’s just kind of been the norm ...”