Raise your hand if you know that the Month of February is Black History Month. OK, a few hands.
Would you please repeat what you said, I asked someone. “I said that I have heard about it in the past but have forgotten about it.”
Alright, now, raise your hand if you know of an event scheduled to celebrate the BHM. No hands up? Really?
This is how my conversation went during a diversity training session I facilitated last week. Very few of the 30-plus participants knew that the month of February has been designated for BHM since 1976. By comparison, everyone raised their hands really high when asked about the Dr. Martin Luther King birthday – yes it is a much celebrated holiday; St. Patrick’s Day was also well recognized is widely celebrated. If BHM is so forgotten, maybe it should be reduced to Black History Day.
The BHM idea started in 1926 when historian Carter Woodson announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week” because it coincided with the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln (who signed the Emancipation Proclamation) and Frederick Douglas. The main goal of BHM was to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in history.” History had to wait 1976 to have BHM officially recognized by the U.S. government through President Gerald Ford.
In addition to the United States, the BHM is also celebrated in the United Kingdom (since 1987) and has been officially recognized in Canada since 2008.
I am not against the BHM celebration. But I have a lot of issues with the way BHM is celebrated today.
In my many past and current roles as teacher, parent and diversity educator, I have been at hundreds of schools throughout the nation. I have been invited to schools as speaker both to the staff and to students during the month of February. It is common to see posters of black heroes posted on the bulletin board at the beginning of February and taken down at the end. A school principal once told me, “We don’t celebrate BHM because we are not quite diverse yet; we only have a few black kids.” I seized the opportunity to tell her that, “Black History” is “American History” especially in today’s global and increasingly diverse world where each child must learn all histories.
Given the current struggles of the black community, the Black Month would better be used as a platform to outline strategies to help the black community and the society at large solve problems they face. I would love to see a Black Month for each of the following issues that will certainly have a long lasting positive impact on the black community and beyond: Increase inner-city public success, reduce health-care disparity, reduce job discrimination, reduce homelessness, support single mothers and reduce teen pregnancy.
I don’t think that the joke that goes around, “There’s no White History Month because white people have the whole 11 months to celebrate their history” is accurate for this diverse world and certainly not healthy for our children. The accomplishments of whites, blacks and others to society should be showcased all year long.
What I like about Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October is the way it is celebrated by people of all races and all ages, and everywhere including on soccer fields, thus presenting a real picture of a cause that is embraced by all.
Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D.is President of All World Languages and Cultures, Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. He can be reached at info@universalhighways.