The Rev. Carl Jenkins, pastor of Dale City Christian Church, says teaching black history is a way to lift the self-esteem of today's young people. By focusing on the contributions of prominent blacks throughout history, and by recognizing positive black role models in today's community, children can learn how valuable their ancestry is, he said.

"Afro-American history opens up the reality of who they are. When I was going to school, I was never told that" black people made major contributions to society, Jenkins said. "When I looked at the TV, I never saw a black face except in slapstick. If I didn't have parents who emphasized my self-worth, I would not have known" it. he could be.

Like many churches, schools, libraries and local organizations in Prince William County, whose population is about 14 percent black, Jenkins and his congregation are celebrating Black History Month. His church will recognize some of the county's black role models in an awards ceremony Feb. 23.

"This is to recognize the role models in this congregation and in the community . . . to instill a sense of pride in our own cultural experience. Prince William County is so ethnically diverse that there is no sense of an Afro-American community. The center {of the black community} is the church, and we do feel a need to foster an appreciation of the contributions of blacks" among black people and those of other cultures.

Plays, speakers, films, concerts and workshops are just some of the methods being used to make that history available to the community.

The National Park Service is hosting a hike to the Pyrite Mine site near Dumfries, a mine where many local blacks worked at the beginning of the century. The Manassas Museum, which opened last weekend, features exhibits highlighting the history of some black residents in the area.

The Black History Club at Gar-Field High School is creating historic scenes and profiles on walls and bulletin boards throughout the school. The club's 120 members are working on a play that summarizes key events and people in the civil rights movement, which they will perform for local elementary school students.

Social studies teachers are inviting speakers, assigning books on black history and discussing the speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"It is a topic that has not been emphasized as fully as it could be in many of the textbooks. {These projects are} a good way of giving black students a greater sense of their identity {and giving all students the knowledge} of black history and the concept of civil rights and its place in their lives," said Michael Bunn, head of the Social Studies Department.

The county's teachers will receive their share of instruction too. "The Road to Brown," a film and teleconference that traces the events of the civil rights movement leading up to the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and a discussion about that case's effect on education, is available to the schools this week on Channel 19.

Each school in the county, Manassas and Manassas Park has been instructed to commemorate Black History Month in any way it sees fit.

Lydia Matthews, a social studies teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, is not planning any special lessons this month.

Matthews, who helped write a guidebook for county schools that offers suggestions for teaching black history in every subject in every grade, incorporates the material into her curriculum throughout the year.

"It is such an integral part of our society, and I feel it's much more effective incorporating {it into the curriculum} throughout the year," Matthews said.

Like Jenkins's church, the local libraries are aiming to educate children early.

Storyteller Lloyd Wilson of North Carolina will tell folk tales Saturday at the Central Library in Manassas and the Potomac Library in Woodbridge. Central Library also will show films and present a photographic display to commemorate the month's significance.

"The most important aspect of it is the children," Jenkins said. He said preschool age children in the church's day-care center are learning history at their level of understanding.

"Many times our children grow up not realizing that . . . there were a lot of people before them who endured a lot of things in order that they would be able to do many of the things they can do today. I look at this month as an opportunity to showcase black history . . . . Everybody's eyes are on it."