The past, the present, and the future are all connected. Black History Month is an attempt at letting our country hear, read and discover our mutual history, and the contributions that have made America the great nation it is today.
Black History Month started in 1926 by Historian Carter G. Woodson. When it first began, the celebration lasted just a week. He selected the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Then it was realized that there were just too many good things to talk about in that short amount of time– so, it was moved to the entire month.
Black History Month presents an important opportunity, not only to commemorate the countless achievements of African-Americans and their role in shaping our history and culture, but also to reflect on where we are as a nation, and how we can continue to grow together. Black History Month is a time to learn from previous mistakes and aspire to a time when the only race that defines us is the human race.
It’s a wonderful time to step back and recognize the many great gifts African Americans have brought to our nation. Just reflect on some names with me for a moment – Frederick Douglass; Sojourner Truth; Harriet Tubman; Martin Luther King Jr; Malcom X; Nikki Giovanni; W.E.B. Dubois; Rosa Parks. How different would our country be without these leaders and the myriad of others who fought for Civil Rights? These people have helped us learn what strength is, what perseverance is. They broke down barriers, they stood against injustice, they helped us pull together as a nation and overcome our darkest days. These people and so many others helped us build toward a greater nation where people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
And it’s not just Civil Rights where African Americans have made their mark. Think about music – what would music be without Louis Armstrong; Aretha Franklin; Michael Jackson; Whitney Houston; Tupac Shakur; Beyonce. Without African American contributions to music we’d be without jazz, blues, rap, hip hop, R and B, and arguably, even rock and roll.
Or how about these. Literature – Maya Angelou and Ralph Ellison. Science – George Washington Carver and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Entrepreneurship, Madame C.J. Walker, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey. Sports – Michael Jordan, Lebron James and Muhammad Ali. Politics – Shirley Chisholm, Maxine Waters and Barack Obama. The list could go on and on.
African Americans have made enormous impacts in every single area of American life.
What makes this so amazing is that it has simply not been that long since black Americans were legally excluded from so many aspects of American life. I know it seems like ancient history, but many today have seen how much life has changed for African Americans even in the past few decades.
It hasn’t been an easy struggle. We don’t have to go all the way back in history to slavery to see the negative effects in our country. That struggle continues today.
That’s part of why we celebrate black history. We honor those who came before. We celebrate how far we’ve come as a society, but we also honor those who continue the struggle today – for the struggle is far from over.
I want to challenge you today to take this black history month and think of our place in history today. Which side of history will you stand on? We all know we still have a lot of problems. You only have to read the news to see how injustice still affects our community today. Make a promise to yourself to speak up when you see injustice.
I also want to ask you to listen. Engage people with views different than your own and share your perspective, but also listen. Listen with kindness in your heart, not anger. If we listen to each other, if we treat each other with respect, we can find ways to overcome our modern-day problems together.
In the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Let us all work to be the light that drives out darkness. If we work together, we can continue to make great strides to a better future.
A wise nation honors and learns from its past. It refuses to let the most important facts about our shared and collective memory disappear into the depths of forgotten history. What happened in the past is of paramount importance for it shapes and informs where we are heading in the future.
Remember to contact me at City Hall with your ideas, suggestions or concerns. I represent you and appreciate your input into the continued success of our beloved city. I can be reached at (954) 329-8990 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.