Social Studies

What Students Have to Say About AP African American Studies

By Ileana Najarro — April 01, 2024 5 min read
Nia Henderson Louis asks a question during AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
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Students at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., initially signed up for an African American literature and film class this year.

But after English teacher Ahenewa El-Amin got the support of her school administrators to run the second-year pilot of the College Board’s AP African American Studies course, students took the new AP class in stride. They actively provide feedback to El-Amin on how to best structure the course to ensure all required topics are covered while allowing for students to dive deeper into topics of interest.

The course officially launches nationwide this fall after initial national pushback over its merits.

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Ahenewa El-Amin leads a conversation with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin leads a conversation with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week

Students in El-Amin’s class (the “founders” as she calls them) shared their perspectives on why they signed up for it, what they love about the course, and what they think peers can get out of it should they enroll this fall.

AP African American Studies course is unique

“I’m African American, and honestly I felt like this was a phase of my life where I was trying to discover who I was. And so I felt like taking African American Studies, it would give me some introspect into who I am, where my bloodline comes from, my ancestry and all that.”

Cole Wicker, senior, 18

I haven’t taken any AP history classes, except for this one, but in the history classes that I have taken, you do touch on the topic of African American history and stuff like that, but you don’t get into real depth other than racism and slavery and stuff. So to take this class and have the perspective of what it was also like for African Americans, not just in the U.S., but also in other countries as well. The diaspora. I love that.

—Kennedy Yarber, senior, 17

Seeing how Miss El-Amin teaches it and how [another] teacher teaches it. I feel like he kind of tiptoes around some of the subjects. I think we have four African American people in our [other] class. And so I think he kind of tiptoes around the subject but still tries to connect with us. But with AP African American Studies you get a lot more of what people did that you usually don’t get. Like I didn’t know who Marcus Garvey was until we talked about him or Toussaint Louverture. My dad’s Haitian and he hadn’t talked to me about him until we talked about the Haitian Revolution [in class].

—Nia Henderson-Louis, junior, 17

There’s no other course like it. I’ve taken all the other AP history classes and this is different from the rest.

Ian Rone, junior, 17

Connections between lessons and modern day

We talked about the Emancipation Proclamation, and also [President Abraham] Lincoln’s views on it, like he originally didn’t want to free the slaves. And then as the war progressed, he kind of got into it. And then he was like, to finish this war we have to end slavery, like his ideals. And after that, I thought they got 40 acres and a mule and I thought that was it. But the whole convict leasing system goes straight to the criminalization of African American men, as we’ve seen in videos. And as we’ve seen, how people were afraid of them, because these people were getting thrown into jail for just some of the smallest things. So I think seeing that and how it bridges and connects to some of the ideals today was really cool to see. But also very horrifying to see that they were still treated like that, even after slavery was done.

—Nia Henderson-Louis

After taking a bunch of history courses, I had a pretty good background knowledge of this class, but we watched a documentary about the 13th Amendment. And that was one of the most eye-opening documentaries I’ve ever watched in my life. I’ve seen a lot of documentaries, but it is pretty crazy to me how the 13th Amendment [has] direct relation to our current status of racism and criminalization of African American men.

Catalina Hicks, senior, 17

[For this class] I researched COINTELPRO, which was this government initiative to silence leaders in the Black community. And it was just really interesting, because I’ve researched that, and then recently watched the documentary about the 13th Amendment. So it was just realizing how much of a role the government played in destroying Black communities. I didn’t really realize it was to that extent.

Cole Wicker

Cole Wicker answers a question during a lesson on Black fraternities and sororities as part of the AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.

Taking ownership of the course

All of our lives, we’ve had classes where the course has been engraved into the curriculum. And this course is new and fresh, and people are interested in taking it. And we’re growing our roots right now with this class with Miss El-Amin too. She’s putting us on the podium to give her constructive criticism on whether something was good or bad or efficient or inefficient. It gives the students a little bit more power when it comes to teaching.

—Catalina Hicks

You have teachers who like to know if you like what you’re learning about and like the way that they’re teaching it. But Miss El-Amin really does care about the feedback that you give her and she does put that towards future assignments. She listens to what we do like, what we don’t like, and what we struggle with. And she helps us understand things that we sometimes don’t understand. And so for her to take feedback and put it towards assignments, it makes it easier for us to understand. I really liked that aspect of the class.

—Kennedy Yarber

Miss El-Amin always asks questions. She shows us that she cares a lot. But I think we don’t realize how much consideration she puts forth when she’s trying to make assignments and make sure that we understand the topic because she’s learning with us. And so when we ask questions, she also wants to know the answer to those. So we get more in-depth than some teachers who would just gloss over it and give you just an okay answer.

—Nia Henderson-Louis

[Giving feedback] makes us want to do more. If the course has already been set for years and years and years. I feel like it gets repetitive. Having our input, it makes it something different and so makes us want to do more.

—Ian Rone

Be eager to learn and engage

For students who do think about taking this class, I would definitely encourage them to have conversations, because the whole point is to come into this class sounding ignorant and maybe say some stuff that’s outlandish, because the whole point is to learn. The history of African Americans is not something that’s broadcasted. It’s not something that everybody knows about. So I wouldn’t be afraid of not knowing an issue. Just ask questions.

—Cole Wicker

What AP African American Studies Looks Like in Practice

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