GREGORY FLOYD President, Teamsters Local 237 and Vice President at-Large on the General Board of the IBT | 1/24/2019, midnight
February has been described as the border between winter and spring. To former major league baseball player and manager Whitey Herzog, the month of February had even greater importance. Herzog stated, “You sweat the free agent thing in November, then you make the trades in December, then you struggle to sign the guys left in January and in February, I get down to sewing all the new numbers on the uniforms.”
The takeaway is that although February is the month with the fewest days, it’s not short on significant days—days of fun and folly and days of remembrance and reflection. From Groundhog’s Day, to Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, to Super Bowl Sunday, to Oscar Night, to Thank a Mailman Day, to Valentine’s Day, to President’s Day, to Chinese New Year, February has nearly 30 different days on which someone, somewhere in our nation, commemorates an occasion.
Then there’s Black History Month. It’s a time to celebrate and educate on the accomplishments and heritage of Black people in America. Its founder, historian Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, along with his associate, Jesse E. Moorland, created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 to promote Black history and recognize achievements of African-Americans. But they knew that was not enough. Woodson argued, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it has a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and stands in danger of being exterminated.” So, in 1926, they launched Negro History Week on the second week of February, because both President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ birthdays coincided. But it took 50 years for the week to become a month, when President Gerald Ford, by decree, created Black History Month.
Today, Black History Month is not without controversy. Some critics argue that empowerment is not accomplished by one month of recognition. Others find it outdated, only symbolic, and separatist. For me, there’s no controversy. Black History Month is not about validation, it’s about action. It’s an important organizing principle when we access our current power and strategize ways to harness the potential of those who will lead us further, as well as a time to remember and thank those who have led the way. There are many humble giants who with, their words and actions, changed history:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—“Everyone has the power for greatness, not fame but greatness because greatness is determined by service.”
Jackie Robinson—“Life is not important except in the impact it has on others.”
Maya Angelou—“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
A. Philip Randolph—“Freedom is never given. It is won.”
Barack Obama—“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.”
Oprah Winfrey—“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Although February is a month with only 28 days—add an extra day every four years—it is a month known for celebrating love, a new year and forecasting the arrival of the next season. It’s also the month for acknowledging “The Best” in many categories, so, let’s not sell February short. Let’s own it instead. The telling of Black history can’t really be contained to any one period of time anyway. Black History Year? Decade? Century? Never mind. Let’s just stick with February is Black History Month and wear it with pride.