Happy Black History Month dear readers. I have such fond memories growing up learning about the great individuals who paved the way for millions of Black Americans to live in this country in a more dignified and equitable fashion. It is a time to genuinely reflect on all of the contributions Blacks have made not just in America, but in the Diaspora as well. It is also an important time to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many men and women (and children) in their quest for freedom, democracy, equity and basic happiness.

When I was a child, we often visited the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, where we marveled at the various wax statues of famous (and not so famous) African-Americans who have paved the way for so many of us. I am filled with gratitude each time I think of what our ancestors endured to make sure we had the ability to educate ourselves, vote, move into the neighborhood of our choosing, start businesses, play sports and so much more. This country was founded on the principles of anti-Black racism. Therefore, the accomplishments of so many Black men and women over centuries in this country further contribute to my pride in being a Black American. Black history is American history. Unfortunately, far too many people do not see the triumphs and accomplishments of Blacks in America as part of the American fabric and foundation (as evidenced by the president’s incessant derogatory remarks about “the Blacks”).

I recently did a bit of reading about Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old African-American girl who integrated her school in Louisiana. Bridges was the first to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960. Many may know her from her iconic photo, that of a small girl with a white bow in her hair, a modest dress and her small socks and dress shoes as she walked past screaming crowds of white supremacists calling her the N-word, pickaninny and much worse. It is hard to imagine what she felt walking into the school building each day. And for many, it is even more difficult to remember that Bridges is currently only 63 years old. Many of the individuals who taunted and harassed Bridges are still among us in this country.

This Black History Month I hope we dig deep and discover and celebrate the heroes of the Black freedom struggle. Let’s extend our curiosity beyond Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Let us find not only the unsung heroes of years past but also celebrate the people in our communities who are the living embodiment of Black excellence and perseverance. That is what Black History Month is to me.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is the 2018 NYU McSilver Institute Fellow and an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of The Aftermath on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.