Most of us have celebrated Black History Month in high school or college by reviewing the achievements of individuals such as Sojourner Truth, only to forget the information as March rolls around.
The birth of Black History Month began when Carter G. Woodson created “Negro History Week” in 1926, and even he noted in The Mis-education of the Negro, that “The mere imparting of information is not education.”
There is more to this month than rote memorization of grandiose achievements. That’s why this February I would like to challenge you to:
- Honor the present difficulties of your black peers.
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
–Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Before you celebrate the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, try to understand the stigmatization that is still occurring today.
As a collective, we sometimes believe that racial disparity is over because it can be difficult or uncomfortable to understand its existence. The truth? MLK talked about police brutality in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, and it is still happening today. Many young black individuals today still feel limited by the color of their skin in some way.
- Appreciate black creativity and art.
“Thank you all very much, especially the rock ‘n’ rollers, and Little Richard—it was all his fault really.”
– George Harrison, during the Beatles’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Among many firsts, black individuals were the firsts to give rise to the beautiful genres of what we now call Jazz, Hip Hop, and Rock and Roll music. It is the difficulty and strife faced by the black community that has inspired artists to produce powerful works.
Celebrate black empowerment this month by absorbing black artists’ great contributions to culture. Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z are great, but have you experienced Etta James, Marvin Gaye, or Jimi Hendrix? Pay close attention to their lyrics and a lot of times you’ll get a history lesson. Have you read Langston Hughes’ “I, Too” poem or Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? Read these pieces of written art and your perception of Black—and American—culture will be changed forever.
- Be radical and speak your truth!
Follow in the footsteps of our black forefathers and speak out! The parents in Brown v. Board of Education saw the injustices their children were facing and took action to successfully end segregation in schools. Rosa Parks’ act of defiance helped launch the civil rights movement. Which stereotypes and prejudices is the black community still facing today? Don’t be afraid to speak out about them this month—or any other month. If you see something, do something!
- Discover ways you are promoting stereotypes.
In what ways are you one step ahead in your career because of your race or socioeconomic status? Are you still making fried chicken jokes?
No need to feel guilty. No matter your color or background, pure awareness and acknowledgment is a grandiose first step.
These are all habits you can form this month to hopefully last the whole year. It all begins with you.
“We’ve been pulled down when we climbed. Yet we’re always resilient, never silent… Society may try to mentally enslave us if they can’t physically, but the truth is, I’ve always dreamt big and I always will. Do you?” – Luna Jones poetry