Black History Matters! February still means something after all these years. It still means something to me. You see, when I was a child, Black History Month was one of the few times I would see a multitude of Black heroes on television or in the library. I fondly remember receiving Black History Month text book covers and comic books focusing on the likes of Benjamin Banneker and Rosa Parks at my local public school. I saw Roots for the first time during Black History Month, and its impact is still with me today. It made me cry and wonder why I was born Black, until my mother in her special way made it clear to me that Black is Beautiful. From that point forward, this month has been a source of pride. As an educator and diversity director, I found it imperative to discuss a variety of cultures and perspectives throughout the school year, but Black History Month was still important to celebrate. Here's why. Years ago, I was teaching American History to 8th graders. I was doing a unit on slavery in America that coincided with a PBS documentary on the same topic. During this unit, I had a parent of one of my white students who asked me a question I promised I would never forget. "When are going to go back to teaching real American history." I responded by informing her that this was very much American history. So, to my family, celebrating Black culture is important, period. However, we are not letting February go by without spending time introducing some new aspects of Black culture that we can then continue to appreciate throughout the rest of the year. What are we doing in February 2015 to celebrate Black History Month?
I am adding some new books to my daughter's library. (See my recent review of The Case For Loving) Addressing civil rights through children's literature has been quite effective with my daughter, who is just shy of age 4. She is curious and has posed thought provoking questions (and made insightful observations ("My class would not look the same . . .) Speaking of her class, my wife and I will be visiting to read a book about Rosa Parks.
2) Keeping it real.
Our family does not shy away from the truth. There is a long, unfortunate history in this country of Black folks being enslaved, lynched, Jim Crow'ed, and generally mistreated. When I share pictures of Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series with Camilla (so excited it will be back at MoMA soon!) I have to discuss why Blacks were migrating north in such huge numbers during in the early parts of the 20th Century.
3) New York City Landmarks
African-Americans have truly impacted the history of New York City, so it is easy to find opportunities to celebrate Black History Month here, especially in Harlem. My wife just re-introduced the beautiful Harriet Tubman statue to our daughter last weekend. We rode the bus past the Duke Ellington statue and the Frederick Douglass memorial last week and discussed why they had these monuments created in their honor. And we live close to this place.
My daughter enjoyed her last visit there, when I pointed this out to her.
4) Watch a Few Things.
We will spend time discussing how lucky she has been to meet prominent Black folks like Spike Lee, Swin Cash, Cari Champion, and Yvette Campbell, as well as watch some clips/highlights of some of our favorite people.
We will also watch the upcoming tribute to the great Stevie Wonder airing Monday, February 16 at 9pm on CBS.
And that a Black person got to be a Jedi!
5) Celebrating the Only Way Possible.
We will do so through one of the best ways possible: music. Whether it is the sheer brilliance of Stevie Wonder, the vocal stylings of Mahalia Jackson, or the majesty of Aretha Franklin, the impact of Blacks in music is undeniable. There are genres, such as Gospel, Blues, and Hip Hop, that would not exist if it were not for the Black experience. So, we will certainly be cranking the MJ, the MJB, and the JB.
There are many debates about whether or not Black History Month is needed or has been watered down or is too corporate. Let me be clear. I don't only celebrate Black culture or read the literature of Black authors during February. But, I fear if we stop celebrating it during February, we might lose the month. So, celebrating, honoring, and remembering Black History will remain something of great importance to our family, especially during February.