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Black History: Not Just One Month

Natasha Eckart Baning. Courtesy Photo.
It’s that time of year again. The time when schools take a break from their regular scheduled curriculum to include the Black voice. When educators frantically pull out their books on Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver and start the annual conversation around Black excellence. In some schools, these lessons have branched out to include Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, the Black Panther Party, and even the Black Lives Matter movement; but more often than not, the curriculum relies on the old standby of traditional, non-threatening historical figures.

This is the time of year when streaming services have entire sections of movies and shows dedicated to sharing Black stories. Kindle and Audible highlight Black authors and Black voices. 

These lessons, movies, and stories are great conversations starters. They introduce students, educators, and community members of all backgrounds to the influence of Black people in and on our country. They provide role models for little Black girls and boys, and they show that Black people play a role beyond entertainment and sports. 

Without a dedicated month for this, our stories and voices would just sink beneath the waves.

But Black history should not be assigned to one month of the year. This country was built on the backs of Black people. We fought in the wars, we worked in the fields and the factories, we clawed our way up through systems put in place to hold us back and hold us down. 

From activists to artists, from entertainers to educators, from inventors to captains of industry; Black people encompass a wealth of history, knowledge, success, and beauty. What we bring to this country is something that all people can learn from and aspire to. It is not delegated to just our Black youths.

I spent 12 years learning white history. I learned all about George Washington, the American Revolution, and our founding fathers. I learned about colonialism and the World Wars. During these lessons, Black people were always an afterthought or a footnote.  It wasn’t until I went to college and took an African-American U.S. History course that I was introduced to a history that was written by, researched by, and taught by someone who looked like me. 

Finally, I was hearing and seeing my history. Finally, I was included in the curriculum for more than a couple of paragraphs in a chapter, for more than just one speech or one movement.

Finally, I was seeing my history told as Our history.

So, this year, instead of relying on schools, or streaming services, or calling on your Black friends to provide you with information, movie titles, and books to read in order to learn about Black history, do the work yourself. Take an active role in your learning. 

Do not be satisfied with the obligatory historical figures briefly mentioned during the month of February. Raise up the Black experience so it becomes a part of your experience. 

Stop being passive consumers of the traditional narrative and instead demand a new narrative. 

Black history is Our history.