Each February, Black History Month is celebrated in the United States and Canada. Black History celebrations date back to the 1920s. The focus of the celebrations has been on the preservation and recognition of the heritage, traditions, and accomplishments of black people.
To be honest, I did not see or hear much in school about people who looked like me in the history of the Americas. Growing up, I watched movies like Alex Haley’s “Roots.” I also sat through school lessons on slavery, Jim Crow laws, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Don’t get me wrong; these parts of history are undoubtedly significant. Yet, I wanted to learn more about the experiences of Black people in the Americas. Why didn’t I see them in my textbooks? What were their accomplishments and contributions to our society at large? I wanted to learn about how black history was interwoven with the histories of modern-day immigrants like my parents.
The Importance of Black History
Why is it important to highlight Black history, or the history of women, or of indigenous peoples? History provides us with clear views of the past. With honest reflection, we can have a better grasp of our present and our future. Many cultures understand this. For instance, the elders in my native country Nigeria methodically recite and pass down histories in families and communities with great urgency and trust. My mother does this with me, and she insists that it is important to know and understand our family and cultural history for the future. Her mother did this, as well.
The fact is, the West has a difficult relationship with people of different races and origins. Many cultures and languages in the Americas were erased or have been suppressed over time. There is no comprehensive teaching of the myriad significant histories in most levels of our education in the United States. We don’t learn about much of it. There are gaping holes in the fabric of the told American history. And the untelling of important stories strips people of their dignity and humanity.
Not a Singular Story
Black history is part of the larger story of mankind, of humanity. It is not a singular story. It is a collective of the experiences of the peoples of African descent, connected through time. Black history is much more than slavery and oppression, although realities of crippling injustice factor heavily in the continuing story. Children and adults alike must be able to access and consider the beautiful narratives of triumph, acclaim, bravery, community, and contribution from black people. Thankfully, we are seeing more of this on our bookshelves and in the media! It is a rich history that folds into the larger history of our nation and should be celebrated. It is a sobering history that informs where we are as a nation and can guide us on what we must do to move forward together.
I want my children to read and know the stories. I also want to read and know them well. After all, we are part of the larger story.
Black history, when properly told, is important for the preservation of heritage, customs, values, language, and more. It is vital for the reckoning of errors and the instruction to future generations. Black history is valuable, for it helps us to understand in a better context what we experience and live through today.
Here is a heartfelt encouragement — let’s all commit to approaching history with open hearts. We have the great honor of being intentional in passing history down to our children. We need not shy away from it, but we can face it with honesty, humility, and hope.