Every February this nation celebrates Black History Month. This year, due to the leap year, we have an additional day to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans from the past and present. Black history is American history and it is shameful that so many Americans do not know the struggles and triumphs of some of this nation’s greatest patriots.
In grade schools across the country, American school children learn of the bravery of Harriett Tubman, the wisdom of Frederick Douglass, the courage of Rosa Parks, and the oratory skills of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These sanitized versions of American heroes seldom delve into the more nuanced accomplishments of these fighters. All four of these individuals fought the white supremacist foundation of this nation and are often presented alongside narratives which represent only a small fraction of their bravery in the face of anti-Black racism, white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. Most students never know the depths of Tubman’s military strategies, Douglass’ contributions to the women’s suffrage movement, Parks’ years as a rape investigator in the deep south, or King’s more aggressive vision of attaining equity and freedom. These are merely four of the freedom fighters this nation has produced, and it is shameful that the thousands of Black patriots are often ignored or rendered a footnote to “American” history.
I use each February as a reminder of the gratitude I feel being a part of the rich and layered history of Blacks in America. I am so thankful my parents instilled a deep well of pride in me, my culture, and my history. They and millions of other parents did this on a daily basis. Celebrating Black history isn’t merely about looking back, it is also about looking forward to see where we as Blacks in America can contribute to furthering the legacy of our predecessors even as we face a new form of white supremacy, exclusion, and discrimination.
It is my hope that this February will be a time of reflection, but also a time for all of us to think of ways that we can continue to educate ourselves and move our great legacy forward. Some of the things I will do this Black History Month include researching and finding small organizations doing large work to help support future generations. I am inspired by the work of Nikita Stewart, a journalist at The New York Times, who has been writing and working with Troop 6000, the homeless Girl Scout Troop in NYC. She not only serves as a tangible role model to a new generation of girls, she is highlighting their excellence and their experiences as they become future leaders in this country.
Happy Black History Month to all. What will you do this month and for the remainder of this year to contribute to the rich legacy of our ancestors?
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.