Black History Month is observed and celebrated annually in various countries around the world in February (and October in some countries). It is meant to highlight, celebrate, and commemorate black people and their contributions to society. This year marks the 45th official celebration of Black History Month. To wholeheartedly celebrate the event, it is vital to retrace its origins. This celebration was originally started by Carter G. Woodson, a black historian who recognized the absence of black people in American history at that time. It was (and still is) an event meant to inspire people around the nation to recognize and celebrate black people and their achievements. There has been, however, a ton of dialogue surrounding celebrating Black History Month in the era of #BlackLivesMatter. Since more eyes and ears are on the struggles of black people than ever before, it is imperative to make Black History Month spark important conversations and encourage people to educate themselves on how to become an ally in the movement. Through reading literature written by black individuals, supporting black-owned businesses, donating to black-owned nonprofits, supporting black artists, and learning about prominent historical figures, we can rightfully honor Black History Month throughout the world.
In honor of Black History Month, we would like to remember and appreciate the work of several notable figures who have shaped black history, with the first being none other than Martin Luther King Jr. His infamous “I Have A Dream” speech as well as his spearheading peaceful protests throughout the United States makes him one of the most influential figures in the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, the ripple effect caused by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up a seat on the bus became the highlight of the Freedom Movement in America since it displayed bold disobedience and widespread outrage against the racial segregation rampant during the time. Less prominent in mainstream media, but equally influential, Frederick Douglass was a prime abolitionist who highlighted his own experience in ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave’. W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), was also incredibly influential for defending African Americans as victims of white racism and shining a light on the hypocritical narrative of the time. Sports figures like Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson (and many more) have also played their part in leveling the playing field and encouraging inclusion and diversity. Meanwhile, writers like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka (and countless others) highlight the lives, struggles, and stories of black people living in a white America. Black people in every field, whether that be creative or academic, have proved to be trailblazers in their own way.
While it is of utmost importance to recognize and appreciate the past, it is even more important to make positive changes today to encourage an environment of inclusion. An effort to ingrain these actions into everyday life instead of solely giving them a spotlight in the month of February and moving on is required. Issues like these are paramount even when they are not trending.
Feature Image: HULTON ARCHIVE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES