Posts Tagged ‘change’

Black History Month: Relevant or Unnecessary

Every year without fail, folks pose the preposterous question, “is Black History Month relevant?

Well…I could immediately begin lamenting the train of thought that leads one to pose that question. But I’d rather share a story with you.

Not so long ago, growing up on the low end of the south side of Chicago, my neighborhood was big on history. In fact, within a 20-block radius of our home on 49th and Michigan, it was nothing to pass through vibrant Black institutions. There was Baldwin Ice Cream Parlor where my cousins and I sat in their heart-shaped chairs and ate our favorite Bubble-gum filled ice cream. On our way to and from the family’s place of worship, Pilgrim Baptist Church; a historical institution itself, we passed the Supreme Life Insurance Building.  There were the public housing developments such as Robert Taylor and Ida B. Wells homes. And the elementary schools I attended, Anthony Overton and Walter H. Dyett Middle School, which similar to a majority of the other schools in the surrounding area were all named for courageous and pioneering Black Americans such as Mary C. Terrell, Bessie Coleman, Jean-Baptiste Pointe Dusable to name a few.

Funny thing about all that history on the low end is its significance was rarely directly imparted to us children, especially concerning the names of the schools we entered everyday. Back then those institutions and businesses stood as a backdrop to a decaying community where Pony cocaine packs littered the streets, neighborhood drunks became heroes, prostitutes turned tricks in vacant lots and schools named after greatness dealt in mediocre standards.

The only time we became remotely aware of the greatness that at one time thrived in our very neighborhood was during the 28 days of February. And even then, only a select few highlighted for us.

Today, that neighborhood is no longer the undesirable “low end” but in its gentrified state is referred to by a much more distinguished name, Bronzeville. There are actual history tours dedicated to showcasing all the landmarks and legacy there.

Considering how little the children who grew up there in the early 80s and 90s were collectively taught of the greatness we were born from, I can’t help but wonder how little of ourselves we would have known if not for Black History Month.

And that’s not the only relevance Black History Month has. Here’s a list in no particular order:

Cultural exchange…

The reality, outside of our own timelines, news and RSS feeds, nobody else is really talking about contributions of Blacks, at least not in any historical context. And with the exception of a few conscious minded Black folks and curious foreigners, the study of Black life and culture is hardly a major interest of whites.

Get your mind right….

So much superfluous chatter online and talk shows, in barber shops and hair salons, relegated to ice cream tattoos, Real Housewives and The Game drama, Twitter beefs, and all things pop culture. At least folks pay a little more attention to our heritage and legacy during February.

Return of investment (ROI)

Corporations and institutions who earn millions of dollars from their strategic marketing and psychological bait of Blacks, invests a small token of those earnings to diversity and cultural programming, much of it during BHM. Not to mention some of our grand award programs and specials would sorely miss the sponsorship dollars.

BHM pays the bills…

Many a Black freedom fighter, professor, author and otherwise self-proclaimed intellectual banks on the speaking engagement and panel appearances across the county. If not for the BHM circuit, most of them would never gain access to the level of mainstream exposure (paid gigs) they garner during February.

I see Black people…

PBS and Cable networks dedicate the entire month to feature Black films and culture, i.e. HBO Lackawanna Blues, What the Lord Made et al

New school…

In these times, schools don’t bear the names of historic figures that its scholars can relate to, but named for neighborhoods or corporate donors. Kids don’t even get to wonder or Google about the greatness over the doors they walk through daily.

The vision…

When Carter G. Woodson created first the week and later the month, the intent was to celebrate all the accomplishments of Black Americans. He had already devoted his life to the research and study of Black life, subsequently forming the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The month-long celebration is merely an extension.

Which is why I just don’t understand how some question its relevance. Are you ready to say farewell to Black History Month? Have we really overcome a time for celebrating our history?

Advertisements

Qualifications of a Change Agent

Saving the next generation is arguably the most pressing issue our community faces. The violence is deafening. The hyper-sexualized chorus of hot mommas and dope boys harmonizing over raging hormones and chemical imbalances is overwhelming. Startling statistics of illiteracy paralyze self-confidence and cripple ambition. There is desperation for resolve…a healing.

So many have researched and studied the systematic depression we find ourselves. From government entities to pedagogic institutions to interests groups many have invested in white papers and measured case studies. None though, have invested in solutions.

Yet there are those who know all too well what ails us. They are the ones living it. They are the ones perpetuating it. Too often they are the ones allowing our sickness to go untreated within our own families and neighborhoods.

The reality is, saving a generation is but a small facet of the problems the Black community faces. The larger of which is that generations are suffering. Mainly because for generations, able bodied and able minded people who recognize solutions that could begin to fix some of the wrongs are sitting back, waiting for the next person to save the day.

This is in large part due to how those government and pedagogic institutions identify great minds within our community who can play an integral role in their studies. These special minds are granted access to resources that enhance their natural minds. It is a wonderful thing when they return and give honor to the community.

However, because of their well-earned titles, often they are looked to be saviors. Preacher, educator, social worker, doctor, lawyer, celebrity are all assumed to be the answer. If any of them belong to a sorority, fraternity or professional organization they are really thought to possess the cure-all. Fact of the matter, while many of these people are driven everyday by a passion to help their communities, they are no more equipped to solve our issues than the other titled members of our community like mothers, fathers, uncles, god fathers, god mothers, neighbors, barbers, beauticians, shoe shiners, janitors, and elders.

Although the same government and pedagogic institutions tend to indoctrinate everyone with the belief that only the special people can help with societal dilemmas, we have got to embrace the redeeming value in members of our community who are not so sophisticated.

We have to believe, again, that though tongues may not possess articulate ponderings or because vocabularies are heavily laced with vernacular, every one of us have the ability to better our community. We all have what it takes to be a change agent.

Yet, I see it often. A school community that seeks only to provide support and resources for its students, but never fully engage families to take a responsible role. Panels are convened but missing is the voice of common people. Politicians seeking the vote from common folk, but rationing out provisions and incentives to social service agencies that manifest the “missionary” mind set that they have to deliver the community from itself, never going within to find solvent cures.

The reality is, in urban America a young black male can absorb as much knowledge sitting in a barbershop on a Saturday morning as he would sitting one week in a classroom.

There is an unassuming woman on the south side of Chicago saving lives. She doesn’t have any illustrious titles preceding her name, nor following. She is not a member of a high-profile family. This woman, Diane Latiker simply saw devastation around her and went into survival mode to ease the trauma. Diane started Kids Off the Block, an after-school tutoring and mentoring program, and infected other everyday folks like entrepreneurs and others who belong to neighborhood social clubs.

Across town on the southwest side one man, Sy Smith, leads a national movement, National Block Club University, where he empowers neighborhood residents to combat the crime in their area. He has an all hands on deck approach.

That is the point of it all. Obviously there is a sense of pride we all feel when our treasures are found and valued by others. We bask in the validation that we have produced and nurtured those who represent the super heroes amongst us. Still, there has to be an equation of value and balance. Time to stop putting it all on the shoulders of our educators, doctors, lawyers, preachers, etc. All of us can touch a life and brighten circumstances. We have to have confidence that we too are special enough to do the work of healing our community.

Question is what is holding us back from recognizing this?