Years ago a client asked me how important Black History Month is to black folks. In my survey, more than 50% of 764 Black females and males, 18 – 65 agreed “Black History Month is a time when it is important to me to hear stories about opportunities that might improve my life, or the lives of my family and friends.” More than 75% agreed with, “I find stories about successful Blacks/African Americans inspiring.”
In an elaboration I was told, “Black figures get very little attention. So, while I do think it is an insult to dedicate one month to contributions by African Americans, it is essential…” No one wanted to eliminate BHM, but most considered it as a drop in the bucket. This country was built on the backs of slaves and minorities alike. Some opportunities wouldn’t be available for anyone if there wasn’t an African American who fueled it in the first place. Black history and the criticality of the contribution of Black people to the United States needs to be taught and celebrated every day of the year. These United States would not exist and certainly never have survived as an independent country without the free labor contributed by the enslaved men, women and children forcibly brought from Africa.
During BHM we’ve been taught about the same folks every year. Lives of so few Blacks are discussed or publicized. Still, small doses of recognition for individuals whose exceptionalism finds its way into the awareness of society is inspiring.
We need to talk about people like Black entrepreneur, Tope Awotona, who founded Calendly, a business worth approximately $3B. Or someone like Mary Ellen Pleasant born ~1814 and known by many as the mother of California civil rights who called herself a capitalist in the 1840 census. She was a wealthy conductor on the Underground Railroad before becoming an influential San Francisco business woman .
The conundrum of BHM is its failure to memorialize everyday citizens making Black history everyday. For example, my father – a Tuskegee Airman who became a mechanical engineer and patented air and sound management systems. We overlook everyday heroes who’ve played roles in the ‘becoming’ of America even as those chapters become unpopular – veterans who fought in unpopular wars or heroes, like my uncle, who worked on the Manhattan project or my great grandfather’s heirs who hold onto land from a former slave master. Home care aids attending the needs of our infirm; retail associates we depend upon to bring us what we want when we want it; community activist warriors; janitors who clean up after us; social workers, nurses and doctors who support our wellbeing; researchers who explore from the seas to the stars; those who unearth history and seniors whose lives are our history and are taken for granted.
Those people are making history we can celebrate in BHM. They are the potential – tapped and untapped embodied in every descendant of the people whose lives and labors are the foundation of everything this nation was, is and will be. It’s up to us to identify stories to be shared to support our identity, fuel our pride, describe our values, inspire our behaviors as well as successes and, “…reflect on my heritage any time of the year.” We must define what it means to be successful and what lessons we want our children to build upon to attain their aspiration. So, BHM should continue, at least, as a month to pay respects, learn and write new stories for our tomorrows.