It has been so long, that I don’t actually remember when I started celebrating Black history. I do recall that it started out as Black History Week. Over time, I have come to realize that Black folks created and invented a lot of things. For example, Alexander Mills invented the elevator, and Albert R. Robinson invented the electric trolley. In addition, John Love invented the pencil sharpener, and John Burr invented the lawn mower.
As I grew older, a week of Black history turned into an entire month. I am sure that Carter G. Woodson, in 1926, didn’t really think about this turn of events. Yet, I suspect the contributions were so enormous that one week simply would not do.
There are some compelling questions to be asked regarding Black History Month as we know it now.
First, there are those who are calling for an end to Black History Month. They argue that there ought to be a seamless transition from Black history to American history. Proponents also say that Black History Month further separates and segregates our society. It is my thinking that, as long as many of the learning tools and dispensers of information give out little or partial information, then Black History Month must continue.
I agree that our history should be interwoven into American history. However, at this point the rhetoric and the practice of the rhetoric don’t match. I have often mused whether talking intentionally about the contributions of Black people make some people uncomfortable. I am sensitive to this comfort issue, but sometimes folks have to feel uneasy in order to appreciate the facts. Will the information tools tell us that Sarah Boone invented the ironing board; that Alice Parker invented the heating furnace; and that George T. Samon invented the clothes dryer? We probably have to go to some extremes to acquire this information.
The celebration of Black History Month during these times has special significance, especially for young students. If you are my age or a little younger, you are a product of segregated schools. You either went to an all-Black school or an all-White school. This wasn’t a reflection on us as much as it was the times. Many of us lived in places where our contact with each other was quite limited. As a result it may have been easier to celebrate the accomplishments of Black folks because there wasn’t the peer pressure or the resistance. And because we had Black teachers for the most part, these purveyors of the information affirmed our pride.
Obviously, we now live in different places and during a different time in our history. Students now learn in integrated classes, and their classmates are of different ethnicities. With all these groups together, you have a real melting pot of ideas and learning styles. The questions then boil up, “How do Black students feel about celebrating Black History Month?” Are they embarrassed by it? Are they afraid of being rejected? And, finally, do they believe there is any correlation between their success and the success of their ancestors?
Recently, in a few public settings, I have shared a few analogies. For instance, there could be no Condoleezza Rice without there first being a Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American to run for President of the United States; there could be no Barack Obama without there first being an Edward Brooke, an African-American senator from Massachusetts; and, finally, there could no Usher without there first being a Sammy Davis, Jr. The analogies are endless, yet the point is that we all stand on the mighty shoulders of those who came before us. They were role models for us before the term became chic and fashionable. The proposition has to be made to young people that their own success is inextricably tied to the success of their ancestors.
One of the things that I have observed more with young students is that they mix well together. Seeing Black students and White students together is not the aberration that it once was. So it would stand to reason that White students would also appreciate Black History Month. It has always been my view that we can all learn from each other. I do hope that Black students celebrate with great pride this month the many achievements that have been made through the years.
February will be gone before you know it. While I think we still need to celebrate in February, we need to do more throughout the year. There are too many highlights to keep them confined to one month. I encourage parents, grandparents and other love providers to keep this spirit of information-sharing alive and well. Use the library and the internet as wonderful sources for information.
We have an opportunity to provide our children with a platform made up of respect, admiration and caring. We can love and care about each other every day. Let our children, friends and neighbors see us as the torchbearers of kindness, civility and good will. February should be a month of inclusion not exclusion. We grow more when we learn more. Celebrate Black history because it is American history.