Black History month is perhaps one of the most uplifting and empowering months of the year, particularly for AfricanAmericans. Every February, we reflect upon and pay homage to the courageous struggles, sacrifices and contributions made by men and women of African decent.
We study and celebrate history for several basic reasons. First, to learn its lessons. As Malcolm X taught, “Of all our studies history is best prepared to reward our research.” Secondly, we study and celebrate history to sense and absorb its spirit of human possibility. For as Marcus Garvey taught, “What humans have done humans can do.” Thirdly, to extract and emulate its models of excellence and achievement. Mary McLeod Bethune taught that “We are heirs and custodians of a great legacy,” and urged us to discover that legacy and to bear its burden and glory with strength, dignity and determination. And finally, we as African people study and celebrate history to remember those who paved the path down which we now walk, who gave their lives so that we could live fuller and more meaningful ones. This is the meaning of Fannie Lou Hamer’s teaching that there are two things we all must care about: “Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.”
However, it is also important to understand that Black History is more than dates, persons, places and events of the past. It is living memory, made relevant by the messages it sends us and the challenges it poses for us to overcome and move forward. It is, moreover, a fundamental way we understand ourselves and an inescapable path and practice by which we envision and forge our future.
“We are heirs and custodians of a great legacy”
At the center of our appreciation of Black History is the commitment to approach it as a living, continuously unfolding reality. Thus, our celebration of history, especially during Black History Month is not simply ritual and rejoicing, but a remembering, studying and practicing which shapes our self-understanding and movement through time.
Dr. Maulana Karenga asserts that “history is best understood and appreciated by engaging it.” Our challenge, then, is to understand and self-consciously participate in the shaping of the process, not stand by and allow history to happen behind our backs.
Of course, it has been argued that “history is just history,” that history has no specific or qualifying color. But our emphasis on “Black” history is a cultural announcement and declaration of our unique contributions to the forward fl ow of humanity. It is a conscious act of self-determination, a correction of and challenge to the historical record.
It is out of this understanding of history that we must and do constantly ask ourselves, how can we use our past to inform and enrich our present and lay the foundation for a more meaningful and beneficial future? What lessons, models and spirit of human possibility and excellence can we borrow from the past to build the world we want to live in?
Our study and commemoration of Black History Month must inspire and encourage us to move forward in our struggle for a better self, society and world — toward human equality, social justice and world peace.