The month of February is a time to celebrate Black History Month, but it’s also a time to celebrate love. I recently listened to a newly found recording by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Dec. 7, 1964 in London, when he was on his way to receive his Nobel Peace Prize. Of the many poignant points he makes, one that stood out was his definition of love. He spoke about the ancient Greek form of “agape love,” which is, in essence, a form of self-sacrifice. It is not the type of love one feels for a loved one in a sexual or romantic sense. Agape is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself.
I am constantly struck by this notion of love in its purest element. It’s type of love that has the power to connect us to ourselves, others and whatever higher power we may believe in. Many people often joke or lament that Black History Month is celebrated in February, the shortest month of the year. However, I find it quite fitting that Black History Month and Valentine’s Day share the same month. If we view Valentine’s Day not just as a time to spoil a significant other, but as a time to celebrate, spoil and appreciate ourselves and all of the people in our lives, then it makes perfect sense that Valentine’s Day and Black History Month would be intertwined.
This February, I am aiming to “practice” agape love each day in the various interactions I have with others and with myself. One of my main goals is to be more present, to acknowledge my surroundings more clearly and to digest the love that surrounds me everywhere I go. I hate to admit it, but I am becoming one of those people who has her cellphone in her hand almost 24 hours a day. In many ways, it has become a safety blanket, and I feel incomplete without it. I notice that as I constantly check email, texts, Twitter and the Internet, I am missing the love that surrounds me. One morning, I put my phone deep in my bag and walked to the subway undistracted. I noticed a small child in a stroller wave at me. I saw an elderly woman give me a proud smile as I walked by. I saw the sun creeping over the brick buildings to the east. And I even noticed three different types of birds (that weren’t pigeons).
As I work on embracing agape love this month and beyond, I am comforted to think of the beginning of this journey as one that is tied to Black History Month. The purpose of this celebratory month is to honor those who have sacrificed for so many people, known and unknown, African-American and other. And the true essence of our collective struggle has been love.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.”