Black History Month

Black History Month: Why It Matters and How to Get Involved

Black History Month, celebrated every February, is an annual event honoring and appreciating African Americans' remarkable achievements, contributions, and resilience throughout history. 

Every year, this special celebration honors the remarkable individuals who have significantly impacted American society and culture while fostering a deeper appreciation for the African American experience. It also strongly advocates for pursuing racial equality and social justice. 

By dedicating an entire month to recognize past and present accomplishments, we pay tribute not only to trailblazers like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. but also to contemporary leaders who continue to break barriers and inspire future generations. 

Black History Month provides a focal point to foster dialogue, promote solidarity, and inspire action. Every February, this month offers the opportunity to share and engage in the richness of American Black history. 

Featured in: February - Awareness Months, Days & Observances

Black History Month’s History and Background 

Rosa Parks, often described as "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" in 1968
Rosa Parks, often described as "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" in 1968. Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

National Black History Month originated in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) launched "Negro History Week" in the United States.

He timed the week to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14. This was a deliberate choice to celebrate the figures who played roles in the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, commemorating and raising awareness of African Americans' achievements and contributions throughout history.

In 1937, under the encouragement of Mary McLeod Bethune, Woodson set up the Negro History Bulletin, which concentrated on the yearly theme. The emergence of black history clubs, increased demand for teaching resources by educators, and support from forward-thinking white individuals all contributed to this cultural shift. Woodson and the Association worked tirelessly to address the growing demand for these materials.

From a week-long event to an official month

By 1976, what was once a week-long observance evolved into a month-long event and was celebrated on many college campuses. This significant expansion occurred during the United States Bicentennial when the country celebrated 200 years of independence. It was then that President Gerald Ford officially acknowledged Black History Month, urging Americans to honor the oft-overlooked accomplishments and contributions of Black individuals across various fields spanning history.

In October 1987, the United Kingdom embraced the celebration, thanks to the relentless efforts of activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. Canada followed in 1995, primarily due to a motion introduced by Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament. 

In 2010, Ireland began to observe the event, recognizing the profound impact that people of African descent have had on Irish history and culture. 

Racial Equilty and Its Challenges

BLM Protest
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Black History Month is an opportunity to confront African Americans' longstanding exclusion and marginalization in our nation's dominant narratives. 

One of the main challenges faced by this cause is the underrepresentation of African American achievements and contributions in education, media, and public discourse.

So, why is this important? By promoting accurate and fair representation, we acknowledge the resilience of African Americans in the face of adversity and celebrate their too-often-neglected accomplishments.

Systemic racism and discrimination continue to impede the progress of African Americans, significantly affecting their daily lives. This pervasive issue impacts critical aspects such as education, healthcare, and financial stability. 

It's crucial to address the disparities African American communities face to ensure equal opportunities and representation in all areas. For example, as of 2021, African Americans comprise only 3.2% of U.S. companies' executives or senior leadership roles. Overcoming such barriers is a vital aspect of Black History Month, with the ultimate goal of bridging the gap and fostering a more inclusive society.

Yet another challenge linked to the cause is combating the erasure of African American history and encouraging the inclusion of diverse perspectives in the study of American history. 

It can be pretty disheartening to observe how the significant contributions of African Americans have frequently been understated or even neglected in historical narratives1. Black soldiers' roles in the American Revolution and the Civil War are of particular note.

By highlighting these stories and promoting a more comprehensive understanding of history, Black History Month seeks to empower African American communities.  And in doing so, fostering a greater sense of cultural pride and identity.

5 Important Facts About the Cause

  • Throughout history, African Americans have contributed to fields including science, technology, literature, and the arts. Unfortunately, these accomplishments are frequently overlooked or dismissed in mainstream historical narratives.
  • Educational institutions benefit greatly from observing Black History Month, allowing students to explore and learn from African Americans' rich and diverse heritage. Exposure to different cultural aspects helps cultivate a better understanding and respect among individuals from varying backgrounds2. This, in turn, works towards eliminating stereotypes and promoting racial equality.
  • Black History Month also pays tribute to the resilient leaders who relentlessly championed the cause of racial justice. Icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X played pivotal roles in the civil rights movement, and their stories of persistence and determination continue to inspire change.
  • The impact of Black History Month transcends the borders of the United States, with countries like Canada and the United Kingdom also observing this significant event. This widespread acknowledgment underlines the urgency of addressing racial inequality globally, urging people from all corners of the world to unite.
  • Celebrating Black History Month enables individuals and organizations to actively support and participate in the ongoing struggle for racial justice. Over the course of the month, packed full of various campaigns, initiatives, and events, heightened awareness encourages involvement in promoting social change. 

Read more: Equality and Diversity Facts.

Efforts and Initiatives

MLK
Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

In recent years, a growing number of organizations, both at national and international levels, have launched numerous efforts and initiatives to commemorate Black History Month. They all aim to foster a deeper understanding of African American history and culture. 

Take, for example, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), which devises an annual theme for the month-long celebration. This approach inspires schools, colleges, and communities to dive into meaningful discussions and participate in events and activities that align with the theme. By doing so, ASALH not only educates but also empowers people with invaluable knowledge about the remarkable contributions of African Americans throughout history.

One particularly noteworthy campaign is the African American History Challenge, masterminded by 100 Black Men of America, Inc. This academic competition engages students in exploring the depths of African American history, instilling a sense of pride and admiration for the culture within the younger generation. 

Furthermore, the esteemed Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture consistently provides a wealth of resources, exhibitions, and programs that shed light on the diverse achievements of African Americans across various fields. 

How to Get Involved and Support the Cause

Get involved in and celebrate Black History Month by immersing yourself in local events and activities. Why not attend lectures, workshops, or cultural performances celebrating African American history and achievements? 

Engaging in these experiences broadens your understanding of the rich heritage of Black individuals. It lets you share your insights with your social media network, raising awareness among your friends and followers. You might find our equality and diversity quotes useful for some graphics you can share. 

Education is key to grasping the significance of Black history. Read books, watch documentaries, and engage in online resources that center on African American experiences, achievements, and struggles. As your knowledge grows, start open dialogues with friends, family members, and colleagues, inspiring them to embark on their own journeys of learning and engagement.

Finally, consider volunteering your time or resources to organizations that champion racial equality and uplift the Black community. You can make a tangible difference in others' lives by lending your skills and expertise. 

Plus, getting involved in fundraising initiatives—whether by joining charity events or organizing your own—can provide much-needed financial support to organizations committed to racial equality. In this way, you'll promote the importance of Black History Month and aid the Black community in pursuing justice and equal opportunities.

Conclusion

This particular time of year enables us to truly appreciate the immense contributions and rich cultural heritage of Black individuals and communities in our society. Moreover, it plays a vital role in raising awareness about the ongoing pursuit of racial equality and justice, thus fostering a sense of unity and understanding among people from diverse backgrounds.

But it's not enough to simply acknowledge this month – we must also take action. We all have the power to make a difference in the fight against racial inequality. 

By attending events, learning about Black history, supporting Black-owned businesses, and pushing for policies that address systemic racism, we can collectively work towards a fairer, more equitable future.

Main photo: Civil rights march on Washington DC - August 1963

Black History Month FAQs

1. What is Black History Month?

Black History Month is an annual celebration of the achievements and contributions of African Americans to American history, culture, and society.

2. When is Black History Month celebrated?

Black History Month is celebrated in the United States and Canada in the month of February.

3. Why is Black History Month important?

Black History Month is important because it provides an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the significant contributions made by African Americans throughout history and to acknowledge the ongoing struggle for racial equality and social justice.

4. Who can participate in Black History Month?

Anyone can participate in Black History Month by attending events, engaging in educational activities, and supporting initiatives that promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

5. How can I get involved in Black History Month?

You can get involved in Black History Month by attending local events, supporting black-owned businesses, reading books and articles by black authors, and donating to organizations that support racial equality and social justice.

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1

Brown, Keffrelyn & Brown, Anthony. (2010). Silenced Memories: An Examination of the Sociocultural Knowledge on Race and Racial Violence in Official School Curriculum. Equity & Excellence in Education. 43. 139-154. 10.1080/10665681003719590.

2

Epstein, T., Mayorga, E., & Nelson, J. (2011). Teaching about race in an urban history class: The effects of culturally responsive teaching. The Journal of Social Studies Research, 35(1), 2-21.

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash
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