Reflections: What Black History Month means to us by Marnita Coleman

Black History Month was created to tell the story of Black achievement and contributions in the United States. It began in America and Canada, then found its way to Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK. I believe it is imperative to the vitality of a people to commemorate their greatness – especially in an era where others attempt to annihilate, suppress or manipulate their significance.  

If we don’t tell the story, how will our children know the potential that lies within them? When they see ones that look like them achieving the impossible, it ignites their faith and gives them the courage to reach for their dreams. “All praise to God, who deposited our authentic self within us, away from evil, so we could live the life He ordained despite the dictates of the world”  (John 15:5, The Passion Translation).

Black History Month reminds us of our resilience, inspires us to contribute, and confronts us if we do not help the next generation. Black History Month is about the elevation of people, not the promotion of self.

In the United States, we celebrate Black History Month in February. As I reflect on my childhood, February was a memorable month, because my mum made banana pudding for my brother’s birthday every year. Valentine’s Day would always bring delicious chocolates; the President’s Day holiday gave us a long weekend from school, and last, but not least, we celebrated Black History Month, which was a time of awareness and pride.

On the educational front, Black History Month was heavily comprised of the Civil Rights Movement and stories of heroic men and women who moved to abolish slavery. There were always sound bites of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches resonating over the airwaves, and video clips of “I Have a Dream” woven between network television shows. We recounted how Carter G Woodson started the whole movement, in an effort to prove that “the negro” had a history worth researching and preserving. February was laced with accolades and praise of Blacks, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from modern-day men, like Dr Ben Carson, to historical figures, such as Nat Turner. It was a time when we wore our heritage with honour. Throughout the month, the hall of fame of purpose-driven Blacks was ever before us, memorialised and esteemed.

Dr Ben Carson and Olaudah Equiano

At the time, it seemed sufficient to recognise the achievements of Black people in a month-long observance. But was it enough? I later began to think like Morgan Freeman, in the realm that Black achievements in America were simply 

American history. I didn’t understand why that was a bold and daring conclusion rather than a fact. Unfortunately, the masses did not view Blacks as equal contributing citizens, due to the lens of bigotry and supremacy.

As I glance across the pond, I am happy to see the establishment of Black History Month with the emphasis on Caribbean and African heritage. Shadowing America, Black Britons were excluded from history in a land in which they lived and contributed for a thousand years. Akyaaba Addai-Sebo’s insight to initiate
Black History Month in 1987 brought awareness of the undeniable contributions made by Black communities that shaped Britain. Patrick Vernon sealed the deal with ‘100 Great Black Britons’, showcasing diversity in the Black community and unveiling the bold contributions of noted British heroes: Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince and almost 100 others.

Regardless of where they originated, Blacks have made significant contributions where they landed. Black History Month keeps Blacks from being deprived of their rich heritage. Thus, the vision of Carter G Woodson is fulfilled: “the negro” indeed had a history worth researching and preserving.  

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