Tell Me About Black History Month

blackhistorymonthBy Makeen Yasar

Another February blows by as the end of the month approaches. Usually, this month is known as winter’s last “hurrah” before the first seeds of spring sprout, birthing a new age of warm winds and sunlight. Not that we were lacking much of it, this is Southern California we’re talking about. What many fail to note, share, or acknowledge however is that this month is Black History Month.

I remember when I was in seventh grade, our performing arts teacher had a select few of us be a part of a Black History Month Performance. We danced our best imitation of an African tribal dance complemented with colorful masks, re-enacted a dramatized movement as Harriet Tubman and company escaping to freedom, and for our finale, our MLK and Malcolm X spoke to the audience, accompanied by John Legend’s, “If You’re Out There”. I was Malcolm.

It wasn’t exactly a Broadway showing, but we put our hearts into it, and we were proud of it. We felt the month had meaning, and we had a sense of self. There was a rich tapestry of art, research, and leadership mixed with courage, loss, and fear, embedded into our culture; during that time period, we had a chance to scratch the surface of some of it.

Now the feeling is lukewarm. Like a floater in the corner of your eye, this month briefly shows, then sails away to the back of your head. I asked around campus, seeing how much worth the students put into the holiday.

President of the Young and Free Club, Jasmine Adams, feels the holiday isn’t prominent enough at Highland. “I think it isn’t well-represented, especially with the increasing African American population coming from L.A. We should be educated more about how we contributed to society.”

Senior Omega Nnoham only takes notice of it somewhat. “I don’t really put much into the month really. My family and I watch a lot of documentaries, mostly on civil rights, so we some knowledge of black history. I don’t know its origin though.”

I realized she wasn’t the only one, I didn’t know how it started either.

I investigated (aka went on history.com) and found out that the history of Black History Month began in 1915 when Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson and then prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the current Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). In, 1926 the organization promoted a Negro History week during the week that passed both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays. In 1976, President Ford acknowledged this self-awareness of cultural preservation as Black History Month.

Many blacks recognize the good intentions that went along with the creation of the month, especially during the Civil Rights movement, when segregation and overt racism tore down the confidence of many young blacks. However, track athlete, Frank Maxwell, feels it isn’t necessary. “I think it’s stupid. I feel like our history shouldn’t be confined to only a month. For me, black history is everyday. To only focus on it for a month isn’t enough, understanding our history should be a year round thing.”

As a minority, it becomes easy to become caught up in the perspectives of the majority, and Maxwell feels that instead we should preserve our cultural identity year round.

Even if only for a month, that is what this holiday is. Preservation. It is a reminder of the foundations that previous generations set before us, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Washington and Malcolm X’s, “The Ballot or the Bullet”, speech, voicing for equal opportunity that was denied to us. It is a reminder of the pioneer’s that revolutionized America, from Dr. Mark Dean who was instrumental to the creation of the personal computer and the 1-Gigahertz chip, to the inventor of the microphone Dr. James E West.

The majority of Black History Month is gaining an understanding the black lives have contributed to the whole of society in major ways. It is a reminder to be proud, self-aware, and independent, because those who set the precedent taught us that we can be amongst the stars (like astronaut Mae Jemison) and change the world.

It is a warning against stereotypes and stigmas, tearing down the way society perceives us and making a path for ourselves. Through history, we’re able to persevere and understand our intrinsic worth. If you let another man write your history, he can tear you down and turn you into something you are not. When Africans were taken to America, separated, and enslaved, their history was lost. When it was lost, they lost their rights and became what the impure wanted them to be, which was less than human. When we gained our emancipation, we created something new; our African-American history.

I remember when we used to talk about Black History Month. Consider this starting the conversation again.