Black History Month is coming up. When I first arrived in New York from The Netherlands some 10 years ago, I was of course not very familiar with Black History Month. Soon after my arrival, I started to work for a black-run non-profit community development organization, primarily serving Brooklyn residents of African and Caribbean descent.
Towards the end of January, I started receiving calls from several (white) schools and organizations inquiring whether we had any Black History Month events planned which they would love to attend. Initially, I was kind of disturbed by that question. I wanted to respond that here at my work, it was Black History Month all year long and they were more than welcome to come visit and see the impact of history on the lives and prosperity of people from African descent to this day. I left it at informing them that we did not have anything specifically planned.
It is important to find a balance somewhere in between keeping the history of blacks relevant today and nurturing the culture of what it means to be black in today’s society. Sometimes I feel like there is a stagnant factor in how we view Black History Month and it doesn’t inspire so much as it tells a story just for the purpose of keeping tradition. Of course, this is not the case everywhere.
There are programs, activities, presentations, exhibitions, etc. in abundance when it comes to effectively bridging the importance of Black history, culture, truth and awareness with today’s issues for today’s audience. It’s true that Black History Month should be about acknowledging history as well as making it. That means fostering our strengths during the other 11 months in the year so that there will be something lasting to celebrate about our era 50 years from now.
Another thing concerning Black history is that there is a lot of spectating of it, and not nearly as much individual responsibility to it. It’s kind of funny, but there is a challenge I’ve heard of that’s about trying to find something “Black” to do during Black History Month. If the goal isn’t achieved, the person searching either takes part in a Black stereotype during the month of February, or becomes content with the notion that simply being Black during Black History Month suffices. In reality, however, I feel that this conception takes away from the fruitfulness of legacy, just as so many other things do.
Exactly! That was my thought as well. It seemed that they just wanted to do something in February to absolve themselves from taking any responsibility for Black history during the remaining 11 months. I nuanced my view a little bit over the past 10 years. Black History Month is about the rich cultural heritage that needs celebrating, because it brought so many wonderful things to this country. And any opportunity to educate and engage people in that notion is a win. Even if it’s only for one month — who knows what will stick?
Of course. One good thing is that in everything, there is a thing called social responsibility that anyone can take on. One does not need to be Black to celebrate Black History Month, and looking to a Black organization to see what’s good with celebrating is not as inspiring as it gets. We need more creative initiations and less reflecting back — especially with the issues and challenges we have been faced with as of recent. Additionally, I am aware that there are plenty of opportunities to strengthen the impact we will have on society as people of African and Caribbean descent. In order to do so, I say we begin to look to ourselves and each other more routinely, and to the superfluous pool of resources we already have to celebrate, expose, and heal.
Yes, I agree. History cannot be changed and in that sense, looking back does not help. But, we need history to teach us how to move forward. We can learn from history, that certain things we have been doing over and over again that do not result in positive change, are not working. But building on the strengths of historical successes to create something new that will work — including ways that Black strength can help with in healing — that’s the direction in which we need to move.
Yako & Krystal