Every February, I try to learn something and do something that will further my knowledge of the incredible Black people who have contributed to every facet of life here in America and abroad. On my podcast gameshow, The Blackest Questions, I must often remind my listeners that Black history is American history. If we do not know about the greatness of Black people who contributed to this country, we cannot say we know or fully understand this country.
The spring semester just began and on the first day of class, I asked my students if they had ever heard of Shirley Chisholm. Only one student knew that Chisolm had run for the presidency of the United States (in 1972). None knew she was the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives. None knew she was from the state of New York—Brooklyn, more specifically. I explained to them that it is impossible to understand the success and historic achievement of Hakeem Jeffries if we don’t first understand the pivotal role of a trailblazer like Shirley Chisholm.
Most of my students had never heard of Barbara Jordan, the second Black woman and the first Black woman from the U.S. South, ever elected to Congress. How can we fully understand the ways Stacey Abrams broke barriers if we don’t understand all of the shoulders on which she stands? David Dinkins opened the door Eric Adams now walks through. Essentially, every Black person making real-live Black History today is a “descendent” of someone who chipped away and created a foundation for them. There’s so much of our political lineage we need to know and understand, and what better time to learn than Black History Month.
What will you learn this month? I am obviously interested in Black political electeds who paved the way for increased Black political participation. Some people are more interested in sports or fashion, or arts and entertainment. Whatever you are interested in, I guarantee you there is more to learn about the ways in which Black Americans have contributed to the field.
Even though February is a short month, we can take a few minutes each day to learn about Black Americans who are contributing to making our city, country, and/or world a better place. Are you going to throw a party and have a quiz (like I do for Black History Month)? Are you going to find an organization doing the work and donate (might I suggest www.projectsouth.org, www.colorofchange.org, or www.greatblacksinwax.org)? Are you going to purchase and read a book by a Black author…or support a Black-owned bookstore?
Whatever you choose to do, large or small, do something to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of all the Black people past and present.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University; author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream”; and co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and host of The Blackest Questions podcast at TheGrio.