In elementary and middle school, we completed projects that highlight the accomplishments of influential Black people. In high school, we learned lessons about important Black figures. Our primary and secondary education has revealed to us the horrors of slavery, violence, segregation, and every other hardship Black people have had, and continue, to bare.
Unfortuntely, education concerning the Black experience is not as readily available as one grows older, requiring individuals to seek after learning opportunities that supplement one’s understtanding. Unless you are taking a specific course about this particular subject matter, no one is forcing you to write a report or do research on a historical Black figure; no one is there to hold your hand and guide you through stories of pain and agony. So, what now? How do we continue to uplift, celebrate, and show appreciation during, and beyond, Black History Month (BHM)?
The Origin of Black History Month
The first step in celebrating Black History Month is to have an understanding of its origin. The idea for Black History Month came about in 1915 by historian Carter G. Woodson and Minister Jesse E. Moorland when they founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Also known as African American History Month, Woodson first recognized Black History Month in 1926 as “Negro History Week,” a time to invite others to celebrate the lives and contributions of Black people in this country.
He chose the second week in February for the celebration so that it could coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. As time went on, state leaders gave Negro History Week more recognition, and, with the help of many advocates, allies, and the Civil Rights Movement, the celebration expanded in 1976 into a month-long annual observance, which we now recognize as Black History Month every February.
Why We Celebrate
Celebrating and learning about Black history in schools has become a repetitive cycle of learning about the freeing of enslaved Africans, the Civil Rights Movement, Black pro-sports players, and Barack Obama. While all of these events and people are vital and important in the discussion of Black history, there is much more to highlight, which is why it is so important to celebrate Black history not just in February, but year-round.
In history classes, it is rare that the American heroes or influential figures that we discuss are Black. The Black history that schools do teach is often whitewashed and made to dim the achievements of Black Americans.
Junior communication student Arianna Vanderhoop recounted what her primary school taught her during BHM: “We would learn about people like Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass, and we might do a report on it, but that’s where it ended. There were no programs or assignments that really celebrated anything beyond the ending of slavery or the Civil Rights Movement.”
Claude Taylor, Director for Academic Transition and Inclusion for Monmouth’s Center for Student Success, added, “I recall being one of the African Americans, as a student in middle school and high school, who didn’t encounter any formal Black history education. Because I went to Catholic schools in the 1970s and 1980s, the only Black history I learned was from family stories and popular culture, such as TV and music on the radio. It was not until I went to a public university that I had classes about Black history.”
Taylor continued, “Once I was in college I had my first Black Studies classes and learned where to find the important books, scholarly literature, and documentary films that would help me gain more awareness of my place within the Black experience [here] and around the world. Today, I am grateful for the rich and diverse Black history materials that we have in print and online. Personally, I have explored the black experience in folk art and the fine arts, like painting, sculpture, and classical music to deepen my understanding of the past, present and future of Black history.”
Black inventors and creatives created the folding chair, potato chips, the gas mask, the blood bank, the home security system, peanut butter, the clothes dryer, and so many other everyday items, but you’ll never find that in a history textbook.
This is why we take the time to highlight and recognize Black artists, inventors, creatives, scientists, writers, and activists so that they are given their flowers while they are still around to receive them.
How to Celebrate/Honor Black Lives
One of the best ways to celebrate and honor Black history is simply by learning, understanding, and acknowledging the contributions that Black Americans have made to this country. Coinciding with this, buying from, sharing, and supporting Black-owned businesses is another way to celebrate and show your appreciation.
It is too often that Black creators, inventors, and business owners are left to advocate for themselves when trying to get their businesses or ideas off the ground or after having their ideas stolen by someone else with a bigger platform.
Additionally, you can celebrate by donating to and supporting charities centered around anti-racism and equality, learning how to protect Black women, and by visiting a Black and/or African history museum. These ideas simply scratch the surface of what you can do to honor and celebrate Black history and Black lives.
Celebrating Black History at Monmouth
Monmouth encourages students to get involved and join in on the celebration of Black History Month through the University’s Intercultural Center; the center advocates for and hosts activities for the University’s Black community. The Intercultural Center uplifts students of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, first generation students, low-income students, and many more marginalized groups.
Students can also join the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Black Student Athlete Huddle (BSAH) to engage with others a part of Monmouth’s black community.
Morgan Alston, Vice President of Monmouth’s BSU, encourages students outside of the Black community to join and participate in BSU: “Black Student Union is, of course, a place for Monmouth’s Black community to feel included, but it is also a space for others to learn and understand the struggles, the joy, and the power behind what it takes to be Black, not only on this campus, but in this country.”