Representation Matters. For some this is simply a statement, but for influential black educators like Terrance Sims, it’s a lifelong mission.
The students in Sims’ sixth grade book club are celebrating Black History Month by recreating the book covers of influential Black figures they've been reading about throughout the school year, from Michelle Obama to Assata Shakur. The recreations will continue throughout the month of February as part of an ongoing project called “Representation is Key”
I reached out to Terrance to discuss the inspiration behind this project and the impact it has had on his students.
One of Sims’ 6th graders poses as Michelle Obama as part of his
“Representation is Key” photo series
Tell me a little more about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching?
My name is Terrance Sims and I have been teaching for 6 years. I was born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin and I work for Milwaukee College Prep as a music teacher. My work started going viral a few years back with a Hidden Figures picture I recreated with my students, and then again with the Tee Grizzly - First Day Out remake with my students. I enjoy teaching and working with youth through artistic outlets.
What was the inspiration behind this concept? What sparked the idea?
“Representation is Key” is a project I complete with my students every February. Each year we choose African American leaders and recreate some of their most memorable photos. This year my class created a book club, and we thought it would be powerful to use the books we were reading to start off our February project. Students are currently reading the book covers they recreated.
How do you feel about all of the positive feedback? Were you surprised at how quickly it blew up online?
The community has been very receptive of my work. They are familiar with me from my past projects and look forward to my posts. I love my Milwaukee community because we support each other and want to see each other win in whatever we choose to do. I appreciate when the public value the work I do with my students and it means a lot. I wasn’t expecting the project to go viral but my students and I are excited it did!
A lot of our readers are creatives; can you tell us a little more about the photography/graphic design process of putting this project together?
I am a photographer and videographer so I have all the photo equipment at my school. I set up
white backdrops and photographed my students and then used Photoshop to insert them into historic images. The students helped dress with the wardrobe.
We’ve heard that you’re planning to continue this throughout the rest of Black History Month. Any ideas on what black trailblazers you’d like to highlight next?
We just uploaded a few more pics, but we plan to venture into African American music and film. I can’t give out full details on who we are working on but we are hoping it comes out great!
Do you feel like this kind of representation is essential at this stage in a Black child’s development?
Yes, I think it is crucial for African Americans to see success that looks like them. It was in fact the exact reason why I started this project. It allows them to research trailblazers in our history that found ways to be successful in spite of the odds they were up against. Hope, role models, and living examples of what it means to be great are all foundational reasons for this project!
3 of Sims’ students pose as the protagonists from Hidden Figures as part of his “Representation is Key” series in 2017.