Guest Speaker Mrs. Antoinette Dempsey-Waters: African American History Is Our History

On Friday, February 26, Oldfields Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee hosted guest speaker Mrs. Antoinette Dempsey-Waters for an interview with our community on the importance of African American studies, the role economics play, and how the Black experience shapes American History. Mrs. Waters has spent the past 13 years teaching in Northern Virginia. She is the creator of the African American History Curriculum for Arlington Public Schools and one of the co-authors of the African American Curriculum for the state of Virginia. Mrs. Waters earned her B.A. in History and Secondary Education from Temple University and a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University. Her work has been featured in a variety of nationally recognized publications. Diana Santos ’21, senior and member of the student DEI Committee, led the interview with Mrs. Waters. 

“When we all know our full story, history makes sense.” Mrs. Waters emphasizes the importance of educating oneself. Once we realize that the system this country has been built on was meant to divide, we are then able to begin the work to dismantle systemic racism. Mrs. Waters suggests that we all read the memoir The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and view the Netflix documentary Amend: The Fight for America

Reluctant to choose just one, Mrs. Water’s favorite lesson to teach is on the election of President Obama. She speaks with us about the importance of knowing where this country has been and accepting that we are living in a country built on enslavement. But in spite of everything, the election of Obama brought about this overwhelming sense of hope and pride. In her words, “We are standing in the light of reconstruction.”

During the Q&A portion of the interview our students asked what advice she would give young Black women. “Be open to change. Be patient. And go vote! That is the most important tool that we have.” When asked what inspires her, Mrs. Waters said “You. Young people. You are my inspiration to keep going.” A student then asked how we start a conversation about race in groups of people who don’t want to talk about it, Mrs. Waters’ response? Food. Creating a beautiful analogy between the history of a dish and the history that we all share, Mrs. Waters says “We all have to sit together. Over a good meal, you can change anything.” 

When asked what sparked her passion for history, Mrs. Waters referenced Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and how that particular novel catapulted her into a greater love of history. Now teaching courses at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, Mrs. Waters is in her 17th year teaching in the public school system. And she loves it. Her courses include AP US History, African American History, and Economics and Personal Finance. In creating the curriculum for her courses, Mrs. Waters credits this to a tremendous amount of research. She has spent much of her time in the Library of Congress and the National Archives reading through the sources in catalogues and databases. In addition, she spent a week living on Robert E. Lee’s plantation. “It was a pilgrimage. You are standing in history and it can be very painful.” Mrs. Waters’ passion and resilience reminds us of the importance in recognizing the difference between place and space. In sharing her experience, Mrs. Waters references Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries TED Talk, Why we must confront the painful parts of US history.

Oldfields School is so appreciative to learn from Mrs. Waters and to witness the dedication she has to moving this country forward, one course at a time. Her pride is in the success of her students, and we are humbled to have spent time soaking up the passion and advice that she has for each of us. 

Read more about Mrs. Waters at

  • African American History
  • Black History
  • DEI
  • Diversity
  • Guest Speaker
  • Interview