3 Ways To Learn and Celebrate Black History All Year Long
February is Black History Month. But why is it important to keep learning about and celebrating black history and history-makers, past and present, after BHM is over? And how do we do that?
The answer starts with understanding that black history is an inseparable part of American history. Many of us learned in school about some heavy hitters in the African American community, people like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Rosa Parks, or Harriet Tubman. But there are so many other trailblazers who greatly contributed to our nation and world and yet are often overlooked.
Reflecting on the trials, tribulations, and successes of these black Americans helps us. It helps us to not settle for ignorance or silence about key parts of our country’s complex and sometimes problematic history. It helps us as we grapple with what it means to value diversity, equity, and inclusion today. And it helps us to focus on picking up where others left off and figuring out what it means to work together to make the world a better place.
Learning about black history shows us how people’s actions and events from earlier times still affect us. Black history, like all history, isn’t just a thing of the past; it is still being made to this very day, and it is still relevant to our current lives.
So how do we keep learning about black history both during and after Black History Month?
The following three suggestions should help to get you started:
1. Educate yourself and others
In my family, we try to emphasize education. And we try to make this learning as fun as possible. For example, we have a jar of popsicle sticks with names of notable black Americans on them. We take turns drawing sticks and learning about that person, people like Alice H. Parker, a Howard University graduate who holds a patent for inventing the gas heater.
We buy Black History Month clothing such as t-shirts from black-owned businesses. Some of these shirts have the names of notable people on them, and we make sure we know how that person contributed to this country. The shirts are also a teaching tool for others who see them.
And we talk candidly about current events. These conversations need to be age-appropriate; they are not meant to instill fear but to be transparent about the realities of the world in which we live. And they are a part of how we prepare our children for success in the future.
I encourage you to learn about significant African American figures and how their talents and works continue to contribute to American society. You can also read about significant events, like the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst examples of white supremacist terrorism in our nation’s history. Find a great starting point here.
2. Engage in the community
Whether or not you are a member of the black community, you can put what you are learning into action in support of that community. Become a patron of black-owned businesses, like Two Rows Classic Grill or Wing Snob in Allen.
Watch, read, and listen to, and celebrate black Americans’ contributions to culture, art, literature, and music. Invite others along for a visit to the African American Museum of Dallas, where you can experience and enjoy folk art, African art, black renaissance paintings, period rooms and contemporary art. Read “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” (and the children’s book counterpart “The 1619 Project: Born on the Water”), a thought-provoking compilation of essays and poetry that illuminate the aftermath of slavery and the struggle for equality that is woven into the fabric of this country. And ask others for more recommendations.
3. Encourage the next generation
I am encouraged today by the next generation. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are racially diverse and globally connected. They are well-informed about social issues; they are not only willing to learn, but they are also willing to teach the world about who they are as individuals. They are accepting and do not fear differences. I want a better tomorrow for them, and I regularly look for ways to encourage them to take a seat at the table and do the hard work of learning and shaping what is to come. You can look for opportunities to do the same, whether in informal conversation or through intentional gatherings.
Celebrating black history isn’t just learning about the past for one month out of the year. It's about the choices we can make today and the hope of what waits for us tomorrow. However you choose to observe Black History Month, understand each of us has the opportunity to be a part of the story as we honor the past, act today, and plan for the future.