History: The month dates back to 1915. Courtesy image

Ericka Lesley

As we stop to celebrate Black History Month, have you ever stopped to wonder, “why do we celebrate Black History Month?” or “where does it even come from?”

As an alumnus of LAUSD, I don’t recall these questions being answered for me. Why is it so controversial as of late to celebrate Black History Month? Or even mention Black issues? Why has ridiculing Black culture been normalized? But, not the normalization of the contributions of Black people to the United States of America? When is it OK to celebrate the diversity and excellence within the culture of the African diaspora?

The origins of Black History Month began in 1915 with Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland who formed an ASALH (The Association for the study of African American Life and History) to research and celebrate the achievements of Black Americans. From the beginning, the celebration was only for one week and Woodson knew that a week was not enough to recognize all of the achievements at that time.

After, the first week of celebratory recognition of Black Achievements, the demand for more knowledge came flooding in. He established a Black studies extension program to educate adults on Black history. It wasn’t until after the civil rights movement that Black History Month was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976. If not for the efforts and impact of the civil rights movement, would we have had to wait another sixty-one years?

When the achievements of Black Americans are celebrated, they are embedded into the fabric of the very thing that makes America the rich melting pot that it was founded on. As stated on February 18, 2016 by President Barack Obama, “Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as it is somehow separate from collective American history or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits like the march on Washington or from some of our sports heroes.”

Is this it? Is Black history viewed as separate from the American vision of history? With the rise of White Nationalism during the Trump administration giving the reflection of a modern-day KKK, the nation is still struggling to shed the shackles of its racist past to recognize the contributions of all Americans and not just a selected few. It makes me wonder are we traveling backwards through time?

Our nation is going through a modern-day civil rights movement in one light and moving backwards in another. As I write this article, there are four states that have passed legislation against how Black History is taught. Books are being banned; a practice that has not been enforced since the 1960’s. Perhaps if we thoroughly learned the mistakes from the past, we would not be having them on repeat now. In a time that we need to search for our humanity, we must take time to truly get to know one another, the good, the bad and the ugly. The past might not feel good, but we need to know it to successfully move forward to achieve equity and inclusion for all.

“Our biggest fear is not I expressing the truth but, that we will be attacked or belittled for our truth.”