Leonard Harvey is the founder of the Black Seeds calendar being sold at Blue Nile Herbs, Books, and Spices. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Leonard Harvey is the founder of the Black Seeds calendar being sold at Blue Nile Herbs, Books, and Spices. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

For 45 years, the Black Seeds Historical & Educational Calendar has been a staple in Black homes and businesses across the U.S. and in parts of the world, especially among those committed to affirming their African identity and achieving Pan-African self-determination.  

As a reservoir of information about Africa and the African diaspora, the calendar has exposed Black people of various ages to the vastness and complexity of the African experience. 

Within the span of 36 pages, one takes a trip throughout history starting centuries before the Middle Passage and leading to the present day. 

The common thread throughout the calendar centers on African sovereignty and various methods through which African ancestors, known and unknown,  have been able to achieve it, chattel slavery and colonization notwithstanding. 

In the 2022 edition, the women and men behind the Black Seeds calendar said their product remains true to that message despite widespread attempts to dilute Black voting power and tailor history to sensitivities of a shrinking white population.  

“There’s work for us to do in all kinds of areas,” said Ronald Wayne Cook, a founding member of Black Seeds, which started in the early 1970s as a volunteer nonprofit organization that provided services to the community. 

“When we make this calendar, we always try to encourage people to look at different ways to help our people,” Cook said. “There’s a role and a space for everyone. Sometimes we need to read, analyze, then act on it because it’s not always clear what we can or should do. But it’s better to do something and not just talk.” 

Longtime Supporters of Black Seeds Speak

In the Black Seeds 45th anniversary edition, people can read articles which highlight voter suppression, grassroots activism in Baltimore, connections between antebellum slave patrols and the modern-day police force and the ongoing movement for reparations. 

Other highlights include a tribute to the late Pan-African scholar Runoko Rashidi, Black Panther community programming and Ranavalona I, an African queen whose rule in Madagascar spanned throughout most of the 19th century. 

The calendar also includes an expansive Black reading list and African world statistics in addition to copies of the Black National Anthem and African pledge. After more than 30 years of patronage, local teacher Natalie Oguara considers Black Seeds a living history tool. 

Oguara, founder and CEO of Sankofa Educators, said she started using the Black Seeds calendar in the early 1990s while teaching at Ujamaa Shule in Northwest. The calendar has since become a constant fixture in her life, so much so that she has copies which go back several decades. 

“I display it prominently in my house so when we walk past it, we can read and feel empowered daily,” Oguara said. “I am focused and laser-sharp about who I share the Black Seeds calendar with [and] I also give it to family members and clients who’ve never experienced that. We have to educate ourselves. That’s been tried and true in our time throughout America and even in Africa. We don’t want others to educate us about our culture,” she said.   

And despite the ominous shadow of growing gentrification, a diehard cadre of Black institutions remain in the District, many of which continue to support Black Seeds Historical & Educational Calendar. 

On an annual basis, community members who visit Ujamaa Shule, Blue Nile Botanicals or Roots Public Charter School, among other places, can pick up a copy of the calendar. 

Dr. Bernida Thompson, founder and principal of Roots PCS, recounted getting her first Black Seeds calendar in the late 1970s, just months after what was then Roots Activity Learning Center opened. 

Thompson, then a new mother, integrated the calendar into the lessons she taught her child and the children of those responsible for creating and distributing Black Seeds. 

Decades later, the Black Seeds calendar maintains a presence at Roots for the next generation of Black children eager to learn about their history. 

“In order for us to go forward, we have to see what happened so we don’t fall into the same pits,” Thompson said. “Though the calendar can’t tell you everything, you have a reading list of almost 100 different books by Malcolm X, John Henrik Clarke, Franz Fanon and other famous historians. If you keep the calendar year after year, then you’re going to have a storehouse full of excellent material about the history of Africans in America and even the diaspora.” 

The Culmination of a Grassroots-Oriented Mission

The creation of the Black Seeds calendar came on the heels of several years of volunteer grassroots organizing that started during the Black Power era, particularly in the realm of education. 

Projects included a clothing and GED program and voter education campaigns. Black Seeds organizers also coordinated community cleanups, forums, festivals and marches. Before the launch of the Black Seeds calendar, the group, which included members from across the U.S., explored the possibility of creating an independent Black school. 

And while that vision didn’t come to fruition, Cook and others heralded Black Seeds as a pillar of community education. In staying true to an ethos that centers on year-round Black history education, volunteers spend much of the year compiling and laying out content for next year’s Black Seeds calendar, even as they distribute mass orders to Black bookstores, restaurants and other areas of commerce throughout the country. 

In doing so, Cook and his colleagues continue to keep in mind that Black Seeds can be a tool of enlightenment, especially for an upcoming generation of children who remain enamored with social media. 

“There are people in their 20s and 30s who grew up with Black Seeds. They have a foundation and have carried on to do great things. I feel confident that they’re grounded in the knowledge of self, even as they continue to develop in this high tech media world,” Cook said. 

“They’ll use that grounding for our benefit. The challenge is still with the younger ones who never had that grounding. We have to find better ways to keep that information in front of them,” he said.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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