When the Rev. Rhonda Thomas decided to create a toolkit to help teach Black history outside the public school system — after Florida legislators approved revisions to its required instruction — she expected Black churches like her own would be the ones to use it.
Thomas, the executive director of Faith in Florida, was correct but not entirely so: Some Florida congregations that aren’t predominantly Black are using her organization’s list of books, videos and documentaries, along with faith leaders from more than 20 other states. Over 300 congregations have pledged to use the toolkit.
What started in May as a state-focused response has attracted interest in a far wider stretch of the country than Thomas ever imagined. She hopes users of the suggested readings in the online toolkit will come away knowing more about Black history — including burnings of Black churches and massacres of Black communities that happened in her state, along with other Southern states.
“People often don’t look at Florida as even being a part of the South because they’re too busy looking at our tourism and entertainment and food,” she said in an interview on October 10. “Florida is the South. Florida has always been impacted in ways of Southern behavior, and we have a history that needs to be shared.”
The online list includes books on slavery and slave narratives; articles on the Civil War; and documentaries, from Eyes on the Prize to Trayvon Martin: 10 Years Later. Clergy and lay people can use the resources in congregational settings such as Bible study classes for children, youth or adults, she said.
The toolkit is an extension of work Thomas has long been leading at Faith in Florida, a multiracial and multifaith coalition of congregations that work together on racial, economic and social justice issues, including mobilizing voters, welcoming immigrants and seeking reductions in poverty and gun violence. The statewide coalition is a nonpartisan affiliate of Faith in Action, a national community-organizing network.