In his 12 years as a history teacher, Ernest Crim III used teaching Black history as a way not just to educate his students but also to affirm them.
“When I go in, I’m coming in high energy,” Crim said. “I bring my drums because I’m telling stories, and there was a period of time in which we used drums for liberation. And because of that, they were made illegal.”
Crim believes learning Black history saved his life — and now, through anti-racism workshops and TikTok videos, he wants to do the same for others. He is also the author of two books: “Black History Saved My Life” and “The ABCs of Affirming Black Children.”
“I’m from the South Side of Chicago, West Pullman neighborhood,” Crim said. “I went to Morgan Park High School, then I went down to U of I Champaign, and I found myself at my lowest point in academics, almost flunked out after my first year.”
That’s when Crim made a decision that would change his life.
“I never got a chance to take a Black history course,” Crim said. “It was offered in high school, but it was an elective. So I said, well, let me take it now that I have the opportunity to see what it’s like. I absolutely fell in love with it, and it became … the driving force for me, graduating, getting my grades up. … Learning so much information to me was like shedding light on the issues in Chicago for the Black community. The Great Migration. Segregation. Redlining. So what if I was able to give the same information to the people of my community? To me, it was a thing that would be used for our liberation, mentally and physically.”
Crim’s path to becoming a content creator began in part due to a 2016 incident. He and his wife were verbally and physically attacked by a White woman at a festival who began yelling at Crim’s wife when she mistakenly picked up a beanbag for a game thinking no one was using it.
“She began to yell at us and call us the N-word and she eventually spat on us,” Crim recalled.
Crim posted video of the incident to social media, and the woman was identified and later convicted of battery. He said the experience inspired him to use social media for anti-racism and Black history content.
“I decided to make a TikTok because I knew that’s where all my kids were, all my students were on there. And it took off,” he said.
Crim’s content on TikTok ranges from stories of historical figures to contextualizing current events. Judging by his more than 375,000 followers, his content is striking a chord. Standing beside the monument to the Great Migration in Bronzeville, Crim reflected on the importance of seeing Black stories prominently depicted in American history. By making Black history more visible to all, Crim said he’s doing his part to help correct the American record.
“One of the most important things about my story is really just wanting people to understand that education is going to start with us first and foremost,” Crim said. “Implicitly, we understand that when we say ‘us’ or ‘American,’ we’re starting from a Eurocentric narrative and often times because of that, our stories are added as a footnote as opposed to being taught in conjunction because we’ve been here before this country as a nation. What it’s like to not understand our history is to miss out on what America is today.”