Talent Has No Boundaries – Commemorating Black History Month

By: Gaby S. Dominguez

Tuesday, the first of February, marks the start of Black History Month (BHM) for 2022. In 1976, Gerald Ford began the first tradition of designating the month of February as Black History Month [1]. Ten years later Congress passed National Black History Month into law and aimed for everyone to be “aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity” [4]. Other countries, like Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrate Black history. This gives us an opportunity to understand Black histories and go beyond stories of racism or slavery to highlight Black achievement [4].

The origins of Black History Month arose about half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery [2]. The man who established the initial celebration of Black history is Carter G. Woodson, who was a Harvard-trained historian and founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). During the month of February in 1926, Woodson sent out an official press release proclaiming the first “Negro History Week” [1]. The month was chosen because it holds the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the president who abolished slavery, and Frederick Douglass, a former slave, influential writer, orator, and social reformer. However, a week was not enough time to fully appreciate the history of African Americans, so it eventually transformed into a month. Barack Obama recognized Woodson’s initiative, in 2016, as one of America’s oldest organized celebrations in history. Obama inspires us to reflect on the importance of Black History Month by stating, “let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” [1].

In addition to Carter G. Woodson, there are various other prominent figures to honor during Black History Month, such as:

  • Madam C.J. Walker, the first woman in the United States to become a self-made millionaire
  • George Washington Carver, who derived about 300 products from the simple peanut
  • Rosa Parks, the woman who initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott and energized the civil rights movement
  • Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives
  • Robert Johnson, the first African American billionaire after the sale of his cable station, Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 2001 [3]
  • Jesse E. Moorland, an esteemed minister that assisted Carter G. Woodson in founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) [2]
  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd James Austin III, a retired U.S. Army four-star general serving as the twenty-eighth U.S. Secretary of Defense, who is the first African American to serve under this title

 

Every year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASAALH (originally the ASNLH) chooses a theme for Black History Month. The theme for 2021 was “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” which explored the ‘diasporic’ nature of the African family [4]. The word “diaspora” refers to the dispersion of any people from their original homeland. The theme for 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness” that emphasizes the importance of Black health and wellness while appreciating the legacy of Black scholars and “other ways of knowing throughout the African Diaspora” [4].

The annual celebration of African American achievements is a significant time to recognize and reflect on the central role they have in our nation’s history. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge their activism and attainments throughout the world, not only the United States [4]. For modern Black millennials, this can be a time to reimagine what possibilities are ahead. On the other hand, the same impetus that drove Carter G. Woodson almost a century ago is more relevant than ever. Just as Gerald Ford stated in 1976, this is a time to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” [1].

The celebration embarking on February 1, 2022, marks an opportunity for all individuals to come together and honor the accomplishments and history of African Americans. We live in one world, so there is also a need for us to unite as one. Our history reflects and shapes who we are today, but also impacts what we can do tomorrow. The best thing we can do as patriotic Americans is support the same Americans who have been by our side throughout history. ■ 

Footnotes:
[1] The Man Behind Black History Month, Sarah Pruitt February 2, 2017, https://www.history.com/news/the-man-behind-black-history-month

[2] Black History Month, History.com Editors January 19, 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month

[3] Black History Month Facts, History.com Editors January 21, 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-facts

[4] Black History Month: What is it and why do we need it?, Alem Tedeneke January 27, 2022, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/01/black-history-month-what-is-it-and-why-do-we-need-it/

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