Every year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) selects a theme for Black History Month. This year, the theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” is meant to commemorate the end of World War I, the war that supposedly made the world “safe for democracy.” It is a war that African Americans fought for the right to fight in, a war that saw African Americans go abroad to fight for democracy, only to come home and be oppressed by segregation. Undoubtedly, there will be many programs designed to lift up this theme, which ASALH sees as an opportunity to reflect on the African-American role in all wars, including the contemporary “war on terrorism.”
What will you do to celebrate Black History Month? Many will participate in programs at their schools or churches. Some will gather for lunches and dinners and reflect on African-American history. However, I wonder how many will simply let the month of February slide without doing anything to commemorate this month. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of ASALH and Black History Month (originally Negro History Week), would be spinning in his grave if he knew how few of us celebrate this month. (Of course, Black history is also American history, and we ought to celebrate Black history every month of the year!)
Dr. Eugene Williams Sr., a retired educator in the D.C. area, reached out to collegiate and professional basketball teams to ask them to have “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Negro national anthem that was penned by James Weldon Johnson, sung at games during the month of February. He has commitments from the Washington Wizards, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors and George Washington University. Other teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks, are considering the effort as well. Williams isn’t representing an organization — he just had a great idea, and started calling NBA team offices with his request.
What will you do to celebrate Black History Month? Will you mount an effort like Dr. Williams? His independent effort will have an impact and ensure that NBA games commemorate Black history. What can you do? Here are a few ideas:
Join ASALH (www.asalh.org): Memberships range from $45 for students to $100 (or more for life memberships). What better way to celebrate Black History Month than by supporting the organization founded by the man who made our celebration possible?
Register to vote: The struggle for the right to vote is an integral part of our Black history. Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “The hands that picked peaches can now pick presidents.” There are lots of important races in 2018, and you honor Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and so many others with your vote.
Help someone make Black history: In Georgia, state legislator Stacey Abrams is running for governor. She can win, too, if she can get the voter turnout and financial support that she needs. If you live in Georgia, you can help this woman become the first African American to be governor of a southern state. You can learn more about her and get involved in her campaign by checking her out at www.staceyabrams.com. Help this sister make history!
Make learning Black history a family game: An organization called Urban Intellectuals has developed two volumes of flashcards that explore aspects of Black history. You can check them out on Facebook (www.facebook.com/urban intellectuals), order their cards and learn more of our history.
Give a child a gift of a Black history book: One of my favorites, “Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis” by Jabari Asim, celebrates a contemporary hero, Congressman John Lewis. Another, “Minty: The Story of a Young Harriet Tubman” by Alan Schroeder, tells the story of the Maryland icon who helped dozens of enslaved people escape through the Underground Railroad (legend says it is hundreds, but at Harriet Tubman Museum (operated by the National Park Service in Church Creek, Maryland) researchers say some of the estimates are too high. “The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist” by Cynthia Levinson will motivate young people to activism. “Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down” by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney will also motivate young people to take on activist roles.
There are so many other things you might do to celebrate Black History Month. Encourage your friends, regardless of race, to learn more about the amazing story of African-American survival and resilience despite the racism that defines this country. May your Black History Month be exciting and enlightening!
Malveaux’s latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via www.amazon.com.