I am uplifted when I read about the accomplishments of Black people. I think about Dr. George Washington Carver, a scientist and inventor and the many uses he made for peanuts and sweet potatoes. Consider Dr. Charles Drew, a noted researcher whose work in understanding blood plasma led to the creation of blood banks.
We can’t ever forget Madame C.J. Walker whose name at birth was Sarah Breedlove. She was born in Louisiana and later became an activist and a successful business woman. She developed a line of hair products for Black people in 1905.
It is impossible to leave out Shirley Chisholm who, in 1968, became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress. In 1972, she became the first major-party African American to run for the presidency of the United States.
When you have a chance please read her book entitled, Unbossed and Unbought. In it you feel her courage and her strength as she became a respected leader and captured the hearts of the American people. Some years ago, I was honored to have met her and to have taken a picture with her. One of her famous quotes was, “If they don’t offer you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
While a student at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, I had the life-changing experience of meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was and still is one of the most defining moments in my life. I have long believed in his approach to fairness and equality.
While some may have a different view, I believe in peaceful assemblies and non-violence. As citizens, we must use our brains and not our muscles to engage others who may not agree with us.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson and The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History created Negro History Week in 1926. The second week in February was designated as Negro History Week. The second week in February was chosen because it aligned with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Woodson, an esteemed historian, famously said in support of Negro History Week, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
I can remember celebrating Negro History Week when I was a student. There were many activities put in place during that one week. There were speeches given, papers written and plays presented all highlighting Negro History Week.
After the second week in February, Negro History Week just disappeared. There were no more speeches given, no more papers written and no more plays presented. I wondered along with my friends how could the many accomplishments of Negroes be captured in one week.
James Baldwin, legendary author said, “When I was going to school I began to be bugged by the teaching of American History because it seemed that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”
Since 1976 every U.S. President has designated February as Black History Month. President Gerald Ford said, “Seize the opportunity to honor the too often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
If you are a student or a member of your community, you should spend some time in quiet reflection about Black History Month. Consider the courage and the tenacity it took for Woodson to spearhead such a movement. Think about Black people in this country who have been difference-makers and trailblazers.
Talk with your grandparents, relatives and neighbors about segregated schools and not having up-to-date textbooks. Ask them about picket lines, picket signs and not being able to eat at certain restaurants.
There is much to learn about the evolution of Black History Month. Use the resources available to you to explore the roots of the black experience.
Just as Black History Month has been kept alive for you, you must now keep it alive for future generations.
Negro History Week organizers used their intellect and wisdom to create change. You must do the same. Get involved in your campus or community. If fraternity and sorority life is for you, when you become a member, get behind some civic cause.
Issues such as homelessness, hunger and illiteracy are problems in our society today. For example, King started out as a preacher and became a pioneer in the Civil Rights Movement. Barack Obama was an organizer around social justice issues in Chicago and became President of the United States of America.
Celebrate Black History Month in a way that would make the early founders proud. Don’t take the accomplishments of Black people for granted because there was a struggle involved in their accomplishments.
Treat every person with dignity and respect. Black history is here to stay because we are going to keep on achieving, keep on believing and keep on beating insurmountable odds. That’s who we are and that’s what we are!
Dr. James B. Ewers Jr., served as a vice president and admissions director at several colleges and universities before retiring in 2012. A motivational speaker and workshop leader, he is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.