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What comes to mind when you think about Black History Month?
The Civil Rights Movement, famous African Americans like Martin Luther King, maybe a documentary that your history teacher would show the class. Black History Month is meant to be a celebration of Black achievement, but as a Black woman, I’ve always felt like the month is just skimmed over with the bare minimum covered.
Any mention of it comes across as more of an obligation than a celebration. For some, it may seem like a redundant, yearly history lesson, but trust that it is much needed; especially now.
Here’s a little history lesson about Black History Month: In 1926, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History along with historian Carter G. Woodson announced that the second week of February would “Negro History Week.” That specific week was chosen because the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass are during that week; days that had been celebrated by the Black community since the nineteenth century. The week focused on emphasizing the teaching of Black history in schools.
In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first president to recognize Black History Month and encouraged all Americans to do so as well.
I view Black History Month as a family reunion of sorts: all African Americans getting together to celebrate and honor our culture in all aspects and paying tribute to those who paved the way before us so that we could have the rights and freedoms that we have today. The media even takes note of how important and significant the month is. For one month out of the year, our music, our art, our lives, and our history are placed front and center.
Then it’s over.
The first day of March always feels like closing the door after the last guests at your party leave.
It was an awesome party and everyone had a great time, but now it’s over and the only thing you have to show for it is a long Instagram story. But that’s how it goes: once those 28 (or 29, depending on whether or not it’s a leap year) days are over, the contributions and successes of my race go back into the closet until next year’s shindig.
Our country has strayed away from the original mission of Black History Month, to teach Black history.
A sad fact is that throughout my time in school, whenever African Americans were mentioned, we were either slaves or fighting for Civil Rights.
Poignant times in history indeed, but there’s so much more.
What about African American men’s contributions to both World Wars and Vietnam? What about African American women being ostracized from the first wave of the feminist movement? And as important as the Civil Rights Movement was, how come we only talk about Dr. King and Rosa Parks? For too long we’ve gotten away with doing the bare minimum when it comes to teaching Black History, and we have got to get better.
I remember a white classmate asking me how I celebrate Black History Month in high school. I told them that my family didn’t do anything. However, if I had the chance to go back and clarify my answer, I would add that I don’t restrict the celebration of my culture to the shortest month of the year.
I embody it throughout the other 11 months as well.
With social media and the skyrocketing popularity of Black culture, other African Americans embody it year-round as well. There’s #blacktwitter where there’s a new meme, trend, or success story going viral. Tumblr has Blackout, where African Americans post selfies and photos of them in all their melanin glory. But most importantly, there’s a greater sense of community.
The family reunion is in full swing, burgers on the grill, adults laughing, children playing; the sun illuminating our skin in all our hues of brown.