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. As Herzog put it: “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, reflection, and religious observance.
February is also the month where we look to a groundhog to forecast our future…which recently turned out to be a most dangerous job for at least one groundhog who was dropped on his big day and is now a deceased weather prognosticator. February has many other special days, leaning more to lighthearted observances such as Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, Bubble Gum Day, and Margarita Day. Then there’s Super Bowl Sunday, a national, all-inclusive “holiday” of sorts celebrated from coast to coast and where the commercials and halftime are sometimes talked about as much as the main event. From Oscar night to Valentine’s Day, to Fat
Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, to two presidents’ birthdays celebrated in one day, to a two-week celebration of the Lunar New Year, to two weeks of Winter Olympics, to the once in four years, add-a-day to the month, Leap Year, February has more than 30 different days on which someone, somewhere in our nation, observes a special occasion.
Then there’s February, Black History Month. It’s a time to celebrate and educate. It’s a time to acknowledge the accomplishments, delight in a rich heritage and retell the history of a people too often forgotten, mistreated, and misunderstood. The originators of the idea for a Black history celebration were historians Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, and his associate, Jesse E. Moorland. They 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. As Woodson argued, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition; it is a negligible factor in the thoughts 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’s and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ birthdays coincided. But it took 50 years for the week to become a month; President Gerald Ford created Black History Month in 1976.
Today, Black History Month is not without controversy. To some critics, the argument goes that empowerment is not accomplished by one month of recognition. Some find it outdated, only symbolic, not necessary, and even separatist. For me, there is no controversy. Black History Month is not about validation, it’s about involvement; it’s about action. It’s both a time of recognition and a call to duty. In labor unions, there’s an important organizing principle used to increase our numbers, demonstrate power and harvest our next generation of unionists—which is applicable here. Especially in order to grow a cadre of potential leaders who will take us to the next plateau, we must inspire and excite young people. We must also remember and thank those who have led the way with words and actions that changed history. Surely, there is tremendous wisdom in the words of Winston Churchill, who said: “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The celebration of February as Black History Month should not be about avoiding mistakes, but instead, about creating more accomplishments, breaking more barriers, and earning the respect of all people. Traditionally, February is the month for acknowledging “The Best” in many categories, so, let’s use the occasion to honor our own list of
“Best in Class” and work to add more names to it. For sure, the list is already long with many giants and “firsts” among them including Dr. King, President Obama, and (hopefully) the next justice of the Supreme Court. But Black History Month—which remembers the past, celebrates the present and looks to the future—should also be a time that helps to motivate our next generation of champions in the struggle for equality and dignity. The list is never too long.