Black History Month is a time where we recognize the key roles, contributions, and sacrifices of African Americans throughout U.S. history. This month-long observance grew from an initiative by Carter G. Woodson, a brilliant and highly accomplished son of slaves, to honor the heritage and achievements of African Americans with a week-long celebration in 1926.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford designated February as Black History Month, urging all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Every U.S. President since then has issued a proclamation in honor of Black History Month. Today, countries all over the world also dedicate a month to celebrating Black History Month.
Here are four reasons we should all, regardless of our own heritage, celebrate Black History Month, along with a few suggestions for how to celebrate:
1. It celebrates diversity.
Black History Month does not just promote diversity; it celebrates diversity. Promoting diversity is bringing awareness to the idea that we are all diverse and we all have something to contribute. But when we celebrate diversity, we are conveying the idea that diversity is beautiful.
A celebration goes beyond recognizing the achievements of African Americans. It publicly honors these men and women. It tells their wonderful stories in a way that makes us realize how they have impacted our lives— how our lives would not be the same if these people did not take risks to accomplish amazing things.
One way to explore and celebrate diversity: visit Dallas’ own African American Museum, the only one of its kind in the Southwestern Region.
2. It unites us.
Celebrating diversity and recognizing its beauty brings us together. It helps us to learn about people from different cultures and backgrounds, and to understand how we are all connected. And finding this connection unites us.
Doesn’t it feel good when family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors get together to celebrate us and our achievements? Don’t we feel connected when a group of people from all areas of our lives come together to celebrate a graduation, birthday, or promotion? These celebrations bring joy when we see people from different walks of life or different parts of the family (that don’t necessarily get along) put aside their differences to celebrate.
This is what celebrating special months or days of the year can do to a larger group of people. When we celebrate the achievements of people, groups and cultures from around the world, we are putting aside our opinions and differences to commemorate our shared history and to take joy in each other’s success. When we celebrate one another, we realize how our differences can actually bring us together rather than tear us apart.
The Fort Worth Opera offers a unique opportunity to explore the unifying power of celebration at its annual “A Night of Black Excellence” concert, featuring internationally recognized vocal and instrumental artists.
3. It takes us beyond the history books.
Throughout school, we take some form of history: World History, U.S. History, and European History. Typically, in our history textbooks, we focus on the “major players.” Oftentimes, they leave out lesser-known figures that have accomplished incredible things.
Rather than letting the history books tell us who is important, we can celebrate special months like Black History Month to give us an opportunity to learn about other historical figures that have impacted our lives and world.
Lewis Howard Latimer and Elijah McCoy
For example, in history class, you probably have studied about Thomas Edison and the light bulb. But do you remember a guy by the name of Lewis Howard Latimer, an accomplished inventor and engineer who helped Edison by creating a longer-lasting filament for the light bulb?
Or what about Elijah Mc- Coy, a member of the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame who held more than 50 patents? Even today, we acknowledge the impact of his inventions with the phrase, “the Real McCoy,” which means “the real thing.”
Ida B. Wells Barnett and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
And even if we celebrate the figures written into our history books, we can take the time to learn about their lives beyond their names and basic facts. In history, you might have learned about Ida B. Wells Barnett, a prominent activist and journalist. But you might not know that she was an orphan from the age of 14 and took a teaching job to keep her brothers and sisters together. Or that she was forced to flee Memphis to escape a mob of protesters when she started an anti- lynching campaign.
You might have heard about Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force. But you might enjoy learning more about his contributions in World War II and his leadership of the acclaimed Tuskegee Airmen.
Going beyond the textbook paints a different, much richer picture of history.
4. It helps us understand the importance of our stories.
Black History Month is about sharing and celebrating the stories of countless men and women who made a difference in our world. Some achievements are noted more than others. But all of their stories reveal how they changed the world…and how we can, too.
However we choose to observe Black History Month, we can allow the four reasons mentioned to guide our celebration of diversity all year round.