February is Black History Month — a month dedicated to celebrating the achievements, culture and history of Black people in America and abroad. Black History Month started as an effort by Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland in the early 20th century to celebrate and research accomplishments and contributions by people of African descent. In 1976, President Ford began the succession of U.S. presidents that recognized Black History Month as an opportunity for all Americans to expose themselves to the rich heritage, stories, and contributions made by Black people throughout time.
Who should celebrate Black History Month?
Everyone can and should participate in the monthlong celebration of Black culture. Black History Month is the perfect opportunity to explore and research the lived historical experiences of our neighbors and fellow citizens, from their vantage point. Curiosity is an important first step in understanding others, and this month welcomes the genuine desire to push ourselves to learn more. As Zora Neale Hurston, renowned 20th century Black author, stated, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” It is important to remember that while celebrating Black history, group learning should be respectful and inclusive. Parents and educators should be mindful of engaging their students in discussions that benefit everyone in the room.
Where do parents start?
Ask your child’s school if they will celebrate Black History Month and if they have activities or curriculum planned. All students can benefit when we widen the definition of Black accomplishments beyond athletes and entertainers. When schools prioritize cultural learning and expose students to other cultures, they elevate each students’ understanding of who is important in our society, thereby heightening empathy and increasing overall knowledge of the contributions others have made to our collective experience.
Where else can I go to find opportunities to celebrate?
1. Libraries and bookstores
Books are the easiest entry point to celebrating and introducing stories and experiences of cultural significance in an engaging and meaningful way. Almost every library or bookstore has a cultural display with suggested, age-appropriate reading material. Check your local library or bookstore for more information.
2. Movies and documentaries
Visual images are an excellent opportunity to take a trip through history and begin meaningful discussions. While movies provide a dramatic account of an historical experience, documentaries serve as a wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at history through first person accounts and historical narrative. Make sure content is age appropriate for your child.
3. Cultural celebrations
Most major cities host Black History Month celebrations. Your local news outlet, a Google search, or the community listserv is an excellent place to find information about Black History Month events, shows, dances, and ceremonies near you.
4. Restaurants and recipes
Food is culture. Share a Caribbean, African, or traditional African American recipe in the kitchen with your child. If you’re not into cooking, Yelp or Google a local restaurant near you. Popular search suggestions are: “Soul Food,” “African” (Nigerian, Ethiopian), “Caribbean” (Jamaican, Trinidadian). Make certain you read the reviews and if you’re uncertain about a dish or the ingredients, do a bit of Google-research before you go.
5. Museums and cultural centers
During Black History Month many museums and cultural centers will hold special exhibits. (In 2021, many exhibits will be virtual.) Find a local museum or visit one of these museums and cultural centers focused on preserving Black history and Black culture:
- National Museum of African American Heritage (Washington, D.C.)
- National Museum of African Art (Washington, D.C.)
- Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York)
- The King Center (Georgia)
- Whitney Plantation (Louisiana)
- The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (Alabama)
- National Museum of African American Music (Tennessee)
- National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Ohio)
- Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (Michigan)
- DuSable Museum of African American History (Illinois)
- California African American Museum (California)
- United States Civil Rights Trail (across 15 states)
Black History Month is a wonderful opportunity for all families to learn more about the stories and contributions that Black people made to the United States and the world at large. In a time when cultural tensions have flared and racial and ethnic insensitivity and hate crimes have increased, what can celebrating the history of Black people really teach us? In many ways, Black History Month provides each of us the platform for learning through an empathic lens; an opportunity to engage in inclusive practices; and the historical awareness of the contributions Black people have made to the American story. Have a wonderfully enriching Black History Month!