Home run! Oberlin teacher brings black history to life in Prospect classroom

Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune
All eyes are on teacher JaNiece Whitehead, who is in costume as Mo’ne Davis, the first African-American girl to play in a Little League World Series. Whitehead is portraying successful women throughout Black History Month.


Wearing a blue jersey and a baseball glove on her hip Friday, JaNiece Whitehead had the attention of every third-grader in her room.

“When we talk about black history, we usually talk about slavery,” she told the Prospect Elementary School class. “But that’s not all black history is. I want to shine a light on the positive examples.”

There are so many to choose from — former First Lady Michelle Obama, actress Whoopi Goldberg, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, professor and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, for example.

For the second year, Whitehead is honoring strong women of color by portraying one each week, teaching her students in character.

Her pick Friday was Mo’ne Davis, a former Little League pitcher from Philadelphia.

In 2014, Davis became the first African-American girl to play in the Little League World Series, and the first girl to pitch a shutout.

After securing the win, she became the first athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a Little-Leaguer.

Whitehead, as Davis, told students that she faced prejudice on two fronts, both because she was black and because she was a girl playing baseball.

“I had people, adults, people’s dads, yelling, ‘Hey, get that girl off the mound. Hey, you throw like a girl,'” she said. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t even out there. Sometimes I wished they wouldn’t throw the ball to me because it made people angry and uncomfortable.”

People told Davis that she didn’t belong on the diamond, that she threw like a girl. But Davis was so good that she “made them all shut up,” and crushed their stereotypes, Whitehead told students.

“How do girls throw? Like me? Do girls shut out Little League World Series like me? Yeah, they do,” she said. “They’re saying that girls are weak, and I didn’t like that, because girls are strong. As a girl, I’m confident.”

Third-grader Christina Fridenstine said she agreed with Whitehead all the way.

“I don’t believe in things for girls and things for boys. I think of everybody equal,” she said.

Fridenstine plays softball but said she’d hit home runs in baseball, too, if given the chance.

She wasn’t the only student inspired by learning about history through Whitehead’s portrayal of black heroes.

“I like how they changed the world. When people didn’t like them, they changed their attitudes,” said Rhyan Daniels.

“I think it’s a fun way to learn,” said Alex Karshner, a big fan of Whitehead’s project. “She gets all these really cool facts, and I like history.”