Several Looks At Black History Month
By Michael Hayes
Minister of Culture

February is a great month, isn’t it?
It starts off with a weather prediction from a reliable source (groundhog’s day) and occasionally ends with a slight modification of the space/time continuum (leap year).
In between, you have things like St. Valentine’s Day, the birthdays of a few U.S. presidents, Michael Jordan and also yours truly.
But for the last few decades, this second month of our calendar year has been reserved for paying respect to the societal contributions made by black Americans. Black History Month, they call it.
Along with Kwanzaa and Juneteenth, it’s meant to be another reason for African-Americans to walk a little taller, go forward by looking back and taking pride in all that we’ve made it through.
True, our spirit is as indomitable as it gets – but for all of our strength and perseverance it’s still not easy for us to agree with each other and that makes it far too easy for those outside our community to disagree with us as a whole. When it comes to the importance of Black History Month, concerns are raised and debates ensue.
Many worthy causes have been given their own month in recent years and it may have diluted the impact of taking four weeks to observe anything. So to gain some grassroots insight on how people really feel about Black History Month, I devised two simple questions:

1. What is the earliest memory you have of celebrating Black History Month?
2. Do you feel that celebrating Black History Month is still relevant or has it become outdated?

I posed these questions to a few people of various heritage and outlook.
And I even asked my little sister to see what she had to say about the subject.
So, here you go Glass City – this is what the people have to say.

Jermaine Young (Graphic Artist, Youth Coordinator for Self Expression Teen Theatre)

My earliest memory of black history month has to be back in about the third grade. I vaguely remember the purpose behind much of what we, as third graders, were required to do but I do remember us as a class reading these little hard-bound children's books that were full of illustrations on great figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fredrick Douglass and many others. I grew up in a mixed community so I clearly remember not understanding why these people had to go through such great lengths for white people and black people to get along. I always used to think that the way me and all of my friends got along was the way the entire world got along. But I was just a kid.
There are children today who have no clue who Martin Luther King is or why he is so important. I'm not sure if this is dangerous or just ridiculous.

Black History Month, I believe, is still very relevant even in these modern times.
Most of the black people I know are somewhat ignorant of their own lineage and historic significance. Anytime you even mention the word "Africa" blacks get a distorted picture of grass skirts and spear-wielding tribesmen. So I believe it is still very relevant in order to remind our own people that we were much more than savages and that we were (and still are) activists, scientists, doctors, artists, inventors, scholars, and most simply important.

Camille Riddick (Student, Youth Choir/ Musical Director)

My earliest memory of celebrating Black History Month was when I was in high school. I wrote a play about a grandmother who has children and grandchildren that complained about life and the many trials and tribulations that it holds. She begins to talk about how it was in her day when there was slavery and black folks had to work hard for what they wanted. Through the stories, her family began to see how blessed they are and how they came a long way. Several students and I got together to do a big celebration of Black History Month and to me it was just amazing, because we had a big turnout. This experience made me see how grateful I was to be a black woman and that experience basically changed my life.
I believe that Black History Month is outdated. Too many people (black people) don't realize that Black History is 365 days of the year. Why just celebrate who you are on that particular month? All of the other months, we're just regular black people, but when black history month comes around, everybody’s got on African colors and singing “We Shall Overcome.” What about overcoming the other 11 months? Half of us don't even know our own anthem. Why is it that we only sing that during Black History Month? Black folks just need to be who they are 365 days a year and make it enough to be proud of.

Bishop Sheqem (Student/ Creative Arts major)

I love black history month because it teaches us about our history and culture but I wish people would get more into the past and our earlier contributions so us Africans would realize we have a history older than America and Europe. To let us know that we began civilization so maybe people will wake up and realize that all this wildin’ out and living crazy isn’t in our nature.
Especially black women! They need to stop wildin’ out and living crazy for real.
I would also like to see more black history BEFORE slavery so our people would see that we weren’t always subjugated and living as an underclass in poverty and ignorance. But really I feel that black history is too much to be taught in the shortest month of the year.

Kai’lah Hayes (High school student, future archeologist)

The earliest time that I can remember celebrating Black History Month was at the age of nine when my mother sat me down and discussed with me the importance of African-American history and the impact that it has had over the years on blacks all over the world. She told me about great African-American founders of the civil rights movement such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson and numerous other visionaries that took a stand for what they believe in.
I am very proud of my race and the fact that I have so many role models and lessons from some of the wisest people of their time who shared some of their wisdom that will benefit me in every step of my life through every battle and obstacle.I don't think that celebrating Black History Month will ever be outdated simply because we're still making history each and every day.
Every time an African -American student gets a scholarship or makes valedictorian, that’s going down in the books of great African-American accomplishments both individually and as a people. So as the answer to one's question I find celebrating Black History Month not only to be extremely relevant but also something that should be celebrated in our minds each and every day we wake up, accomplish a hard task , overcome a struggle within or outside, and look in the mirror.

Savannah Butler (Student/Revolutionary)

My earliest memory of Black History Month was back in elementary school. I went to a predominantly white school with, of course, an all-white faculty. I remember, vaguely, learning about a dream, a bus seat, and some peanuts, for several years. But my first clear memory is of fourth grade: for the talented and gifted program, we were assigned Black History Month poster projects - in January! Intentional or not, this program had me running home telling my mother that Black History Month was now in January rather than February. My mother explained that it must have been a mistake or I must have misunderstood the teacher, but back then I believed in my teachers and education so fervently that I began immediately working on my Frederick Douglass poster.
In the subsequent years I learned that Black History Month was indeed always in February, but this memory clearly impacts my thoughts on Black History Month today and more so the education thereof.
I recently asked my 11-year-old brother about his experiences with Black History Month and, while he indicated that it has always come in February, the only names he could remember were, of course, MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, and George Washington Carver.
Is Black History Month outdated? No.
Are the teaching methods? Yes. Is Black History Month an effective tool for increasing knowledge? No. Combining an entire people, an entire culture, and its history into one month is dehumanizing. It trivializes the struggle, the history, and the people - past and present.
We can instill as much knowledge, pride, and determination in our children as we want - but when they step into a classroom/society where they and their history matters only for 28 days a year, something is very wrong.

So there you have it folks, a few thoughts on Black History Month.
Maybe if you have the time, you can pose these same questions to some of your people.
While taking the kids to and fro, while deciding what to eat for the evening or possibly while attending one of the many Black History Month events in the city of Toledo – take the time to ask someone: What’s your earliest memory celebrating Black History Month?
And maybe we can all come to a better understanding on how relevant it remains today.
Black history is indeed an enormous chunk of American history, and most certainly is just as important.



At 12:59 PM, Anonymous IMANI said...

I happen to agree with SAVANNAH. The teaching/acknowledging of Black History becomes more and more patronizing the older I get.

Whats more, it's painful to recall those grade school memories where your biggest historical heros we're assaninated (MLK or MALCOM X) or you see those same people and they've punked out in some way (JESSE JACKSON).

And if not thier physical lives, my heros have had their very characters assasinated. What teacher in their right mind would place Micheal Jackson or Bill Cosby on their wall now. They even got to Micheal Jordon. Who is left to celebrate?

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