Posts Tagged ‘reading is fundamental’

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?

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