The month of February is dedicated in the United States to educating people of the historical oppression felt by people of African heritage, and to celebrate the victories of social change led by black leaders from around the world, according to History.com. “It is a time specifically set apart to commemorate and remember the African American people and events that shaped history and where we are as a nation today,” said Leslie Owusu, an African American sophomore English major from Washington D.C. “Just like Women’s History Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Filipino American History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, or any month-long observance, it gives us a chance to study these important people and events.”
“It’s so important to not only celebrate our diversity, but also the diversity in other cultures as well,” said Ramsey Wilson, an African American freshman elementary education major of Utah.
Wilson continued, “When we think of black people, we often think of slavery, oppression, and hardships. We also need to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments and victories that black people have had. In our textbooks, it's all about white people and Europeans. When we get into topics that introduce the black population, it’s often looked at through the European lens along with slavery. We really never learn about African culture or recognize its importance.”
According to History.com, the time of recognition was first introduced as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. It was later changed to Black History Month in 1976 and was dedicated to the month of February to strategically coinciding with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Wilson said she thinks Black History Month opens a dialogue concerning race that many Americans fear to discuss. Wilson said, “I think that race is still a huge issue in the United States. Of course the issue of race has gotten a lot better, no arguing that. It’s not so much of an outward form of racism but more internal now. No one will come out as racist today; it’s definitely shifted to be a more internal problem and even a subconscious kind of racism. For example, people are far more likely to go and sit down with their own race.”
Mariah Walsh, an African American senior English major from Minnesota, shared, “I think Black History Month could be improved to include a recognition of all oppressed peoples. I appreciate the focus on the plights faced by blacks in the United States, but there are so many others who have gone unrecognized: the Irish, Native Americans, the Chinese, and Japanese.
“I would like to see an increase in the recognition and remembrance of the many ethnicities which have experienced suppression in the United States, and call for a greater inclusion of these people. By realizing the patterns of racism in the past, I think it will encourage Americans now to diminish racism against others by realizing the faulty racial practices of the past,” Walsh continued.
Rae Kongaika, a computer science freshman from Italy, shared, “America has a history of oppression concerning African Americans. It’s not only important to recognize this, but also celebrate the accomplishments of black Americans despite the odds. Because of America's high racial diversity, it’s important to celebrate all diversity.
“Take time this month to actually go and learn some history; not just about slaves, but about how African Americans have shaped American society today in a positive way.”
Owusu advised: “One way would be to read about black history either online or in a book. It doesn’t have to be a big long thing. You could even watch something on YouTube or the History Channel Website about Black History Month. I think that main thing is initiative. There’s many ways to educate ourselves about many things, we just need to want to do it in the first place.”
“I have fond memories of growing up in school and doing projects about important African American figures in history. It gave me the chance to focus and learn about them as individuals, not just as a general population of African Americans. I also loved hearing and learning from my fellow students’ presentations so we could all learn together. This month has always given me a sense of pride for my heritage,” Owusu added.
Kongaika said students should take the time to learn. “This February, try and learn something new or even review things that you might have learned. Take some time to honor the African Americans who have shaped America to be what it is today.”
Wilson shared a quote she lives her life by: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform he world. And you have to do it all the time.” The quote comes from Angelo Davis, a civil rights activist who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.
Wilson added, “You need to be educated and learn what is happening now. Black History month opens the window for people to do that… Protesting or even something little like informing your friends will help.”