Black History Month is here. It is a time when we celebrate the many accomplishments and contributions of African American people.
Parades happen, special church services occur and special awards are presented. It is a time for both reflection and joy. I am a Baby Boomer, thus my reflections go back a long way.
I can remember when we had only one week to honor the contributions of Black people.
Carter G. Woodson is in the minds of many, especially of my generation, as the chief architect of Black History commemorations. They were traditionally held during the second week of February, which was chosen because Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was Feb. 12th and Frederick Douglass’ birthday was Feb. 14th. Both Lincoln, who was White, and Douglass, who was Black, were considered important figures during that time in our country’s history.
My earliest memories of Black History Week started while I was in elementary school. In school, we learned that Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light. We also found out about strong black women such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Over time, in high school, we read works by famous Black writers such as Sarah Wright and Ralph Ellison.
I also had indelible memories at my church and at my home. The Black churches in my hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. had special programs in honor of Black History Week. Men like Carl H. Russell, who was a city alderman and owner of Russell’s Funeral Home, were honored. Sitting and listening at church about the contributions of Black people gave us a great deal of pride. It made us realize that Black people did have a history, a proud and rich history.
In retrospect, Black history was celebrated every day at my house. My mom and dad were constantly telling me about the men and women who came before me. I can remember my dad telling me about Michael Manley, a Jamaican prime minister. You see, my dad was Jamaican and my mom, American. My mom was a history-maker herself, as she was in the first class of nursing graduates from Kate Biting Reynolds Hospital. This hospital served the Black people in Winston-Salem. Black people fondly referred to it as “Katie B.”
Interestingly, Black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in Ohio initially proposed Black History Month in February 1969. According to the history books, the celebration of the first Black History Month took place at Kent State in 1970. President Gerald Ford later recognized it during a program honoring the nation’s bicentennial.
So, since that time until now, we honor our timeless history with one month. In many circles, Black History Month has turned into a celebration of the Civil Rights Movement. We hear about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy. I have had the privilege over my lifetime to meet King, Young and Jackson.
While the Civil Rights Movement was a defining period in our history, there was and is so much more to our history. It is a “forever history.”
Black history should be embedded in America’s history. We should not have to dig for it or search for it. We should not have to wonder about its existence. It should be easily accessible and available. Textbooks, reference materials and media should all be a melting pot for our history.
Just as we know about Denzel Washington and Halle Berry, we should also know about legendary husband-and-wife actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Just as we know about Michelle Obama, we should know about Barbara Jordan, the first woman and first African American to be elected to Congress from the state of Texas. If you are a Black student and have an interest in science, then you must find out about the true story of four black women in America’s space exploration. The movie is “Hidden Figures.” If you know who Stephen Curry and LeBron James are, then you should know who Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Nate Thurmond are.
As college students, let me encourage you to know your history. You must become ambassadors for Black history. You do not have to be Black to be an ambassador for Black history. Our history is tied together. That is what makes America the greatest country in the world.
When you become an ambassador, start on your campus and let your fellow students know it is their moral obligation to know their history. You can’t celebrate Dr. King’s holiday and not know who King was. Begin to volunteer in your local schools and community centers. Tell students that it is ok to know who Chance The Rapper is, but they should also know who Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was.
Black History needs to be shared every day and not relegated to one month. As college students, if your college is not giving you enough Black history content, then petition them to give you more. Black people are achieving great things. Celebrate them and let people know.