I launched this new blog promptly following President’s Day, but also smack dab in the middle of Black History Month.
It’s amazing to me how many people don’t even know about the significance of this month. When I was a freshman in college, I met a girl on my dorm floor who had never heard of Black History Month. “Do you know what next month is?,” I asked her during the second week of spring semester. She said, “um…well, I know it’s February…why, is there something going on?”
I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I grew up in a Black neighborhood in Los Angeles and attended a Black Pentecostal church, but I also went to a predominately White all-girls’ school, where most students regardless of color at least knew that Black History Month was in February. How can someone NOT know? I thought.
Resisting the urge to look at the girl like she was crazy, I told her I’d explain a little later but that Black History was founded years ago, in 1920. I then logged on to the internet that night while taking a study break, and began printing out Black History facts such as the inventor of the traffic light (Garrett Morgan), Zora Neale Hurston’s publishing date of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the fact that the Black National Anthem is entitled “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” written by James Weldon Johnson.
As a Freshman, it was “cool” to post notes on your front door–this was well before the Facebook Revolution. Every day, I posted a new fact on the front door of my dorm room, along with my school’s list of Black History Celebration events. At first, I thought no one would really care–in fact, I was pretty sure it would be ignored.
About three days later, folks were coming by to the room to say, “Wow, I didn’t know that [insert Black fact]. Where did you find this out?” or “Hey, are you going to the Civil Rights discussion in Marvin Center tonight?”
By the third week, NO ONE in the East Wing of Somers Hall could say they didn’t know that February was Black History Month.
My sophomore year I had an interesting discussion with an Africana studies professor. He said that Black History Month was rather bittersweet for him, because not only is it very busy for speaking engagements and lecture invites, it was a reminder that Black History was still seen as separate from American History (see my note about Malcolm X for a related discussion).
I can’t describe how true this latter sentiment is. One summer I taught a Black literature course for 4-6th graders in Los Angeles. The kids were so happy and excited to be reading books, stories and poems written by and about people who looked just like them. Every day they would come in and couldn’t wait to talk about Letters from a Slave Girl or the packet of Langston Hughes poems I passed out earlier in the week.
Multicultural education and history is so important–not just to children but to everyone in this nation. It is a shame that we live in a society where the experience of people of color is set apart from what we call “the American experience.” “American tradition.” “American History.”
Nonetheless, I am proud of the accomplishments of my people. I am proud of how smart and regal and blessed and brave and beautiful we are. And I’m proud to share all of these things with all of you out there in the blogosphere.
Happy Black History Month, everyone.