MPS Teacher's Photos Show Black Children They Can Be Leaders

Feb 28, 2020

Terrance Sims has been teaching at the MPS school Milwaukee College Prep for about six years. Each February for the last four years, he's been using photography to actively engage and celebrate Black History Month with his students.

If you scroll through Sims' Instagram, you can find photos he's taken, recreating images of influential black figures. They might be from the civil rights era, academia or the entertainment industry.

Some have gone viral, such as the image of three black girls who recreated the poster for the movie Hidden Figures. One of the film's stars, Taraji P. Henson, shared the photo on her Instagram. Another photo is a recreation of the cover of Becoming, Michelle Obama’s book, which features one of Sims' students.

Sims says the recurring theme for his project has been that 'representation matters.' But this year, he wanted to change things up a little. "I just wanted to stretch further than just recreating icons in black history. I really wanted the students to really be themselves as well, so we are just really taking important concepts in black culture and lettings the students live that out."

Credit Terrance Sims

For instance, Sims says one of his favorite parts of the project this year was getting young boys together dressed in suits and ties to revive the conversation of what it means to be a gentleman in today's society. "I think in black culture we have a strong history of being gentlemen, and doing the right thing as men in our community. But in a lot of different ways in the same turn we've kind of left that, so I really just wanted to bring attention and this is how you should be a man in our culture."

Sims says it's also important for him to have black girls at the forefront of his projects. "In a lot of ways I feel like they're unfairly placed in the back even if they're getting higher grades or (are) more talented in their fields, they're always put second nature when a guy comes in the room. So when I do this work I'm intentional about making sure girls are more involved."

Sims says he believes it's important to show the different complexions of black girls, and to feature photos of them with their natural hair.

He says the photography project has directly impacted his students in a positive way, even beyond Black History Month, and it's helped to teach kids that they're capable of anything.

Do you have a question about race in Milwaukee that you'd like WUWM's Teran Powell to explore? Submit it below.

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