I am a black woman. Which means I’m a double minority. I grew up in a house where conversations about appreciating my freedom as a black citizen were a frequent occurrence. My father would tell us to never wear a hood outside. We were to be more-than-polite to the police. And we were told to pay attention to our surroundings, because our surroundings could secretly hate us.
As a child, my parents’ rules and my father’s stories of racial trauma helped me understand the basics of what it meant to be black. But as I grew older, I realized what freedom as a black woman truly meant. I became exhilarated. And yet, I experienced the most painful moment of my entire life. Because I knew that being free indicated that at one point, I was bound.
My pain pointed me to the past. That’s when my love for Black History Month began.
What Is Black History Month?
Historian and Harvard graduate Carter G. Woodson originated negro history week because he believed that the appreciation of someone’s history was the first step to gaining equality. Known as the “father of black history,” his implementation of negro history week became the precursor to Black History Month that was solidified later during the black power movement.
Black History Month is a banner for a group of people who know their worth and want to be seen as equal. Blacks who celebrate this month are here because our ancestors made it out of slavery, Jim Crow, and emancipation alive. This month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of people who were stripped of everything but found the strength to give even more to a country that didn’t loved them. It is a celebration of patience, perseverance, and faith. Its existence is a display of real history that comes as a yearly reminder of what not to do, if racial reconciliation is a priority.
Look to the Past to Influence the Future
Black History Month is now my favorite time of year. It never ceases to amaze me everything blacks have contributed to this country, given where we’ve come from. This year, however, the celebration is shrouded in an even thicker grim reality because 2019 marks the four-hundred-year anniversary of the first set of slaves making their way to North America in 1619 and four hundred years later, the amount of work left toward racial harmony is still astounding.
I recently overheard a woman ask why we needed a Black History Month, or a negro national anthem, in the first place—because in her opinion, it only keeps us from progression when we live in the past. But what she doesn’t realize is that the black person’s future is only attainable because of the black person’s past.
There is no way to truly celebrate black history without acknowledging the truth of the past. Most people don’t like looking back. It’s uncomfortable. But our present reality is built on the decisions of the past, and once we understand the fault of our past decisions, we can make different choices to ensure a better future.
Since Black history is American history, its celebration will always be relevant in the conversation of racial reconciliation. Its creation serves in one way as a constant reminder of what not to do if we want to see any progress. Even now, Black History Month acts as a mirror for blacks in America who continue to break barriers, fight for equality, and demand systemic changes.
I’m still trying to reconcile my identity as a black woman. I still wonder where I fit in the women’s struggle or in black activism. I do know that I want to live out my freedom in Christ because of the identity he’s given me. But I also want to remember the past. Because I know that the past is a necessary tool for influencing the future.
This year, we remember that four hundred years ago blacks traveled over the waters into a foreign land, only to be considered the lesser of a prized animal. Even so, through strength, perseverance, and the will to stay alive, black people have made their mark on American History in the best possible way. And that’s not the end of the story.