Let’s do a better job celebrating Black History Month
Black History Month has ended, and much like every other year, the promised pageantry and remembrance was nothing more than one or two events. Black history was not celebrated in 2019, instead being allowed to fall through the cracks.
We can do better than this. There is so much black history that we unknowingly encounter every day, and it should be relatively easy to fill one month with daily remembrances. But 2019 was a disappointment, like most years before it.
What is Black History Month supposed to be? To me, it’s a celebration of contemporary achievements and preserved heritage. It assures us that we as African Americans have overcome and will continue to do so throughout future generations.
Black history is the legacy of Black America, explaining that from the tireless efforts of our ancestors, African Americans now have more opportunity to choose instead of being oppressed. Black History Month deserves more than a week’s worth of celebration. Each day should be uniquely celebrated until the last day of February.
But to most millennials, it’s easy to think of Black History Month as an obligation rather than a celebration. In high school, it seemed to take only one week for Black History Month to lose its charm.
During the first week of the month, my teachers would lecture about four well-known activists: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. The rest of that week, the class would be silent enough to listen for notable African American inventors or entertainers during the morning announcements.
But once the second week rolled around, black history left the classroom. We were taught through the announcements. Instead of continuing the Black History Month celebration, we’d have entertaining school plays and school fundraisers for Valentine’s Day. I even remember some inspiring speeches about Presidents’ Day.
For the rest of February, teachers and students wouldn’t speak of Black History Month. After growing up this way, when you say “Happy Black History Month” to a millennial, they may not know how to answer.
More than the past
Black History Month began as Negro History Week in February of 1926. During that time, it was celebrated the second week of February because it merged the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
In 1970, Black History Month was proposed by black educators at Kent State University. The university become the first American institution to celebrate the month-long holiday. Six years after Kent State, not only did this become a huge phenomenon, but it was heavily supported by most of American society.
Black History Month is not solely about slavery and tyranny, and it is comprised of more than just the top four people listed above.
There are social activists such as Tarana Burke, who created the #MeToo movement. She became a positive voice for survivors of sexual harassment and abuse.
Another example is NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who took a stand when he took a knee in protest of continuing social injustices in America.
Recording artists, such as Meek Mill and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Kendrick Lamar, make major impacts on society by bringing awareness to the current state of Black America and the social injustice of black people.
And what about the popular comedian and director Jordan Peele, who had us jumping in our seats with his profound social thriller “Get Out?”
The whole purpose of Black History Month is to celebrate black excellence and not just our struggles.
One of the main reasons why millennials aren’t commemorating Black History Month is due to there being other distractions. February has Valentine’s Day and the beginning of school, not to mention all the stress of every day life. A lot happens in February, and millennials don’t have a lot of time in their busy lives to stop and remember the past and admire the present.
Think about this for a moment: If no one before you has actively celebrated Black History Month, what’s your motivation? Black History Month is an American holiday. That means not only should America celebrate, but it means millennials in America should be encouraged to celebrate.
This also means that universities, such as the University of Houston, should show greater respect to Black History Month. I’ve seen signs and online events commemorating Black History Month, but I have yet to see anything that merits active celebration.
Try harder in 2020
“Every student in public and private schools across Texas should be required to take a unit of this history annually. In doing so, we could accelerate not only knowledge of African American history and the struggle for black citizenship, but also enable the deep empathy that comes from recognizing strangers as part of the wider human family,” said American scholar Peniel E. Joseph in an article for the Houston Chronicle.
Millennials especially should be active in celebrating Black History Month. As millennials, it’s necessary we bridge the gap from the past to the present. Once we do, the possibilities will be endless.
It can start with universities, such as UH, showcasing African American creations and achievements throughout their campus and inspiring the current generation. So in 2020, let’s really celebrate Black History Month.
Opinion columnist Diamond Holloway is a journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected]