Black History Month: Bridging the Historical Past with Year-Long Equality

February marks the observance of Black History Month. In an effort to honor the historical significance of the month, I also wanted to create a discussion which centered on year-long inclusion and equality.  Essentially, I’m asking: Can society work toward racial equality that builds on the inclusion and education found in Black History Month?

Many historical texts and publications, including readily available information online from sources such as The History Channel, detail the events that lead to the creation of Black History Month. Black History Month originally began as Black History Week in 1926. The week, envisioned by Carter G. Woodson, was formed as a way to included black history in the public school system. The Black History Month which most of us are familiar with did not come to fruition until 1976.

Within the scope of Black History Month, it is important to understand African Americans’ contributions and sacrifices which contributed greatly to shaping our society. Where would the United States be without the political contributions of feminist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth? What about the accomplishments of literary greats such as Zora Neale Hurston or Louis Armstrong’s contribution to jazz and music in general? It seems African American sports, literature, music and even political figures are well represented in our media driven society; it is African American inventors who seem to garner the least recognition.

All-time NBA leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and author Raymond Obstfeld authored the children’s book, “What Color is My World? The Lost History of African American Inventors.”  Readers learn about the inventions of many talented African American inventors including Dr. Valerie Thomas, inventor of Illusion Transmitter (3D technology) and Dr. Mark Dean, the Vice President of IBM who created the ISA computer system which made the lightweight, personal computers we use today possible. Where would we be without their technological advances and most importantly, how can society use appreciation of these accomplishments to bridge the month-long celebration into a year-round conversation centered on equality?

The likely answer to these questions is education and recognition of the historical importance. In short, we cannot abandon the celebration of Black History Month in exchange for a year-long discussion nor can society use the month as an excuse to speak of racial equality for only a short period of time. Society must strike a balance between both of these options. The Wilkes Barre Branch of the NAACP issued this statement regarding finding the right balance between yearlong inclusion and a month long celebration: “One must have an understanding of the history behind this event to determine the relevance of it in today’s progressive society […] Progressive Americans in today’s modern society have yet to do a good job with integrating black history into mainstream education throughout the year. Until America corrects this horrific and calculated injustice, there is still a need for Black History Month.” Therefore, it is up to each of us to understand the significance of Black History Month is not limited to February’s 28 (or 29) days.

Wilkes University Associate Director of Diversity Erica Acosta offers a similar view calling for a balance. “I think we should celebrate all year round, but we are human and we tend to forget things. Having a month pushes us to think about it for a whole month and also question that this is not enough and we should do it year round.”

It is through bridging the gap of Black History Month’s historical connections and year-long recognition that society can create what both the Wilkes Barre Chapter of NAACP and Acosta call “an open and honest dialogue and discussion on race.”

As members of the Wilkes’ community, we can start having such discussions by attending Wilkes’ diversity events. Acosta informs, “We need to start by admitting to ourselves that such an issue exists and start participating in the events. Attend the events even if they make your feel uncomfortable. We are all uncomfortable at first learning something new because it’s not familiar, but once we keep on doing it then it becomes easier. That is the same with diversity and inclusion conversations. You start understanding the differences and similarities when talking about racial topics.” Beginning these conversations is the first step to creating a more just society.

Bridging the gap between historical traditions and year-long racial equality can only mean a more inclusive world for everyone no matter their race, religion, gender, social class or sexuality.