Black History Month still means something to me after all these years.
When I was a child, February was one of the few times I would see a multitude of black heroes on television or displayed prominently in the library.
I fondly remember receiving in school Black History Month textbook covers and comic books focusing on the likes of Benjamin Banneker and Rosa Parks.
I saw Roots for the first time during Black History Month, and its impact is still with me today. It made me cry and wonder why I was born black until my mother, in her special way, made it clear to me that black is beautiful. From that point forward, this month has been a source of pride.
So, to my family, celebrating black culture is important — period. So what are we doing this month?
I am adding some new books to my daughter’s library. Addressing civil rights through children’s literature has been quite effective with my daughter. She is curious and has posed thought provoking questions and made insightful observations. Speaking of her class, my wife and I will be visiting to read a book about Rosa Parks.
2) Keeping it real
Our family does not shy away from the truth. There is a long, unfortunate history in this country of blacks being enslaved, lynched, Jim Crow’ed, and generally mistreated. When I share pictures of Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series” with Camilla, I have to discuss why blacks were migrating north in such huge numbers during in the early parts of the 20th century.
3) New York City landmarks
African-Americans have truly impacted the history of New York City, so it is easy to find opportunities to celebrate Black History Month here, especially in Harlem. My wife recently re-introduced the beautiful Harriet Tubman statue to our daughter. We rode the bus past the Duke Ellington statue and the Frederick Douglass memorial last week, and discussed why they had monuments created in their honor.
4) Watch a few things
In addition to spending time discussing how lucky she has been to meet prominent blacks like Spike Lee, Swin Cash, Cari Champion and Yvette Campbell, we will also watch some clips/highlights of some of our favorite people such as Misty Copeland and Skylar Diggins.
Whether it is the sheer brilliance of Stevie Wonder, the vocal stylings of Mahalia Jackson, or the majesty of Aretha Franklin, the impact of blacks in music is undeniable. There are genres, such as gospel, blues and hip hop that would not exist if it were not for the black experience. So, we will certainly be cranking the MJ, the MJB, and the JB.
There are many debates about whether Black History Month is needed or has been watered down or is too corporate. But, I fear if we stop celebrating it during February, we might lose the month. For example, years ago I was teaching American history to eighth graders. I was doing a unit on slavery that coincided with a PBS documentary on the same topic showing on TV. The parent of one of my white students asked me a question I promised I would never forget, “When are we going to go back to teaching real American history?”
So celebrating, honoring, and remembering black history will remain something of great importance to our family throughout the year, but especially during this month.
A version of this first ran on The Brown Gothamite.