Friday, February 26, 2016

The Future of Black History Month

"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization" 
- Carter G. Woodson



 What we know today as Black History Month was created in 1926 by African American historian Carter G Woodson. What was originally known as Negro History Week was observed every second week in February. Woodson believed in the importance of chronicling African American history. Woodson knew that not recording the struggles and accomplishments of African American men and women who helped mold their cultural and ethnic identity would cause the history to be forgotten and not celebrated.

In it's infancy, Negro History Week was observed by school districts mainly in Southern States and the Cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C. In 1969 a group of students at Kent State University proposed that it be expanded to the entire month of February. The first Black History Month was unofficially observed in February of 1970.

In 1976 as part of The United States Bicentennial celebration, Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. Government while Gerald Ford was sitting President. Great Britain officially began observing Black History Month in 1987. Canada created their own Black History Month in 1995 to honor the accomplishments of Black Canadians in their history. It wasn't until 2008 that the Canadian Senate unanimously voted in favor of recognizing it as a National observance, which they celebrate in October.

Growing up as it probably is today, the focus of our studies turned to Black History in February. Depending on where your school was located and the demographic of the community, that would range from reading a few chapters on slavery and The Civil Rights Movement to watching Alex Haley's Roots or to doing a report on a notable figure of Choice. At my daughter's school, which is located in a culturally diverse neighborhood, Black History Month is a big part of their yearly curriculum. They do make it a point to celebrate all cultures and traditions represented in their student body, such as Hispanic Heritage Month and by incorporating songs in several languages in various choral and drama programs throughout the school year.

For their Black History Month project, last year, they were given a list of prominent African Americans in a broad range of fields including politics, entertainment, art, activism, sports, literature, education, inventors, technology, science, and entrepreneurial. They had to create a board with pictures and information on the person, as well dress up like them and be able to recite a spiel about their historical contributions on command. Being my daughter, she chose to do her project on musician, singer, dancer, funk pioneer, and activist James Brown. 

This year's project involved them creating a "Trading Card", kind of like a baseball or basket card that you might have collected as a kid. They used a program similar to Photoshop and turned it in through their Google account. My daughter again chose an entertainer, Mr. Nat King Cole. Her choice was a default because she wanted to do Marvin Gaye, but another student had already chosen him. She picked someone more prevalent in our family history than she could know. Growing up I was obsessed with music from the 50's. Why, because I had old parents. I grew listening to Elvis, The Platters, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole among others. My father especially loved Cole's music. One of the main reasons was because he sang in Spanish, and recorded with some of my Dad's favorite musicians.

The powers that be at my daughter's school decided that next year, they would not include entertainers or athletes on the list of subjects for Black History Month projects. Although she will not be at that school next year, the prospect of the list being reduced concerned me. There was already a stipulation in place that forbid the students to deviate from the supplied list. They would not even entertain reasonable suggestions. Today as in the 80's when I was in grade school we have been limited to a dozen or so historical Black figures to study and learn about, whose contributions not only influenced Black but American history and changed the way a nation viewed an entire race of people. Great Americans that anyone walking down the street can give you a synopsis of who they were and what made them important.

The question I ask myself is, Will students still be limited to learning about same men and women I read about, sixty years down the line during the year of the Tricentennial in 2076. Will there have been any new names added to the list? Honestly there have not been many names added in my lifetime. Has Black history stopped? Has the struggle stopped? Has true equality been approved. It seems that today the kids look to people based on what they wear or on how much money they make. Will my daughter's grandchildren write about Instagram models or Vine celebrities for their Black History Month projects. I also wonder with the increase in mixed race births, will some people be excluded from being honored half black? 

I don't understand why in the world we live in, there aren't any new faces leading the future of Black History. There is still racism, police brutality, White privilege and a biased media fueling hate towards not only Black Americans, but also Latin Americans, Muslim Americans, minorities in the LGBT community  and countless other people from all over the world that call The United States home. When someone dies at the hands of the establishment, everyone is outraged. People march, others riot. Black lives suddenly matter. Everyone is an activist until some other pressing issue takes up their attention, such lack of Black movies and actors nominated for an Academy award. We don't hear about Black lives mattering again until another person loses their life for being young and Black or Hispanic or Muslim in White America. With so much of this happening over and over again, I find it really hard to believe that no one has stood out in the name of justice and as the new face of the movement.

How can we have a Black President for 8 years, and have no modern Civil Rights leaders come out of that era. What is to happen to us after Obama leaves office? The way American voters seem to be leaning is towards a hate mongering son of privilege. Will it take America to return to the days of segregation and slavery for new Black leaders worth being honored for Black History Month to step up and lead the people?

Are we as parents of possible future Black leaders, giving our children the tools and examples to later make the decisions that will make them great leaders one day? Teaching them that we must blindly obey the system is not the solution, and neither is raising them to be defiant and to hate people in power. The key is to teach them that there can be a balance and that we as a people of any race cannot wait for the establishment to fix itself. We have to educate ourselves and gain the tools necessary to drive change through policy change and economical and political leverage.

The future of America and Black History Month is in our hands. Will the history books write about a return to Jim Crow America or the rise of the next generation of Civil Rights leaders and young Americans who did not stand by idly and let the American ideal of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" fade into oblivion. You decide.

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