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Why do we only exist during Black History Month?

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

It seems that nowadays everyone has their own month or day or even year. If it is not Earth Day, it is Mother's Day. If it not colon cancer awareness month, it is National Poetry Month or the anniversary of someone or something. The latest has been the 100th birthday of the lame president Ronald Reagan--give me a break.

And so it goes.

I am not naming these months, or mentioning a horrible president to pit one observance against another. But it does get pretty ridiculous--there is a national frog month and a national popcorn month. I expect we will be hearing soon from the society for the prevention of cruelty to pigs, asking us not to eat pork some time during the summer.

But of course we do have Black History Month. This wasn't conjured up by some marketing executive trying to get free publicity for his client. It was the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, one of our great Black scholars and journalists in the 1920s who knew how critically important chronicling and documenting our history is to our people.

Black History Month remains so important on so many levels. Not only does it highlight the accomplishments of Black people, it shows all Americans how much we have added to the fabric of American society.

During this month we are highlighted in the classroom and on television through documentaries and news programs. There is a focus on the Black community that does not exist at any other time of the year for so many Americans (save for in Black newspapers and other Black media). And if it were not for Black History Month, I am not sure the accomplishments of African-Americans outside of sports and to some extent entertainment would be highlighted at all.

But why is that? Why is it that so many accomplishments of Blacks are put away in a drawer and only taken out in February? Why is it that there are only slight mentions in the textbooks, and it is really only when teachers go the extra mile (usually during February) that Blacks are shown to have been central to the creation, building and defending of America.

America was built on the backs of Black slave laborers. It was a Black man, Lewis Latimer, who invented an important part of the light bulb--the carbon filament. It was a Black man who created what led to modern refrigeration and a Black man who invented the stoplight.

It was Black men who helped to free the south during the Civil War and it was the liberators (a group of Black soldiers during World War II) who helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. It was the Tuskegee Airmen--including our great CUNY educator Roscoe C. Brown--who made sure that hundreds of missions were carried out safely and that cargo and personnel made it to their destinations during critical flights. And it was Ben Carson whose hands changed the direction of medicine.

Black people are America, our blood, sweat and tears run though the veins that make up this country yet we are relegated to a month where we are honored and celebrated. We are more than a month. We exist 365 days a year. We are your doctors, your teachers, your police, your lawyers. We are your president. We are your future.

We need to change the way America thinks of us. Not just in February, but 12 months a year. Schools need to add more of our history to their curricula--our achievements need to highlighted every day and integrated into the greater educational domain. In literature we need to focus on Ellison and Haley, Hughes, Morrison, Angelou and Mosley. And in art history Bearden, Lawrence, Parks, Van Der Zee and Catlett need to be a central part of the canon. We need to be represented and acknowledged--we need to exist everyday, not just in February. That would be American society's ultimate acknowledgment of the legacy of Woodson and us, as an accomplished people.