Recently a question was asked on WVON 1690-AM radio about how relevant Black History Month still is. Unfortunately the way the question was worded led to simplistic yes or no answers. I took exception by pointing out that a better phrasing of the question would lead to deeper, more thoughtful responses rather than “knee jerk” reactions.
How does one celebrate Black History Month and keep it relevant in a country that is promoting multiculturalism? For me, it is a 365-day obligation to honor the history of the descendants of enslaved Africans. It is learning at every opportunity about what happened before, during and after slavery. It is my constant search to learn more about my ancestors’ lives as they struggled to survive in the South following the end of slavery. It is understanding that there is no sin in having come from people who were once enslaved and that the sin lies in those who enslaved us.
I recently had the opportunity to rewrite a friend’s book. It was the autobiography of his mother who came to Chicago from Arkansas after World War II. What I enjoyed most in learning her history was that it was the story of an average person who came to this city and lived in parts of it rarely mentioned in any history book. The telling of this average person’s life may never be a bestseller for the general public, but it is their family history, written in first person by the person who lived it.
I often think of the greatness of black history in this country. We have created so much to be proud of. Musically we created jazz, the blues, gospel and rap. Black history is so interwoven into the basic history of this country that every time the majority tries to overlook the role our ancestors played, we must be diligent in pointing out their contributions.
We’ve had so many “firsts” that played a significant role. Militarily we had the Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines and the Triple Nickels.
The Historically Black Colleges and Universities have educated some of the most brilliant black minds this country has produced. We’ve taken the little that we were given and made something great out of it.
It is imperative that each of us do what we can to keep our history alive. It is not a coincidence, but done more by design, that there are few gathering spaces for black people other than churches. Because of that, our young people don’t get the opportunity to see and hear older people talk about their experiences. When young people don’t get to interact with their elders, there is a less and less chance for history to be passed from the old to the young.
In 2014, I am striving to take advantage of every opportunity to make the past relevant to younger people. I recently attended a forum that addressed how we can impart knowledge to those who are incarcerated. Years ago I wasn’t open to that idea. But time has made me aware that if we don’t reach out to the young people where they are, it will be difficult to get them to progress.
As soon as more details of the program are firmly put in place, I will write about it because I will need the support of others to make it a success.