Beyond February

Peanuts, freedom, and sports sum up my childhood interactions with Black History Month. The month of February launched my predominantly white school into a building lined with posters of Black icons and library displays of books featuring children that looked nothing like anyone in my class. During the celebration we would “learn” about the edited lives of George Washington Carver (who was not to be confused with our first President, George Washington), Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and of course Jackie Robinson. These were the “important” Black people in history, and there were times I thought these were the only Black people in history books. I would wonder, Where are all the Black people my parents told me about?

The community I grew up in was very mono-cultural, but my parents thought it was very important to expose my sister and me to all sorts of people. Diversity was important, from our dolls to our books to our music. My sister and I were brave with Sojourner Truth, we watched the revolution begin with Crispus Attucks, we learned about leadership and education with Malcolm X, and we danced to Buddy Guy. These were not men and women who were important only once a year, they were people who helped shape my childhood.

My public school may have found a home for Black heroes once a year, but to me they were heroes and history-shapers. Over the course of my not-so-long life, I have had the privilege of tearing up at the Lorraine Motel, strolling across the wooden fishing bridge of a young Harriet Tubman, standing on the ground where Mary McLeod Bethune attended Bible College, watching on as Questlove brought Philly to its feet, and embracing my neighbors as they fought for justice in Chester, PA. Black History is part of the fabric of America, and although I love to celebrate February with extra emphasis on this great heritage, knowing it has shaped this nation, my community, and me—February is not enough.

There are populations within America that celebrate the sorrow and the triumphs of the Black experience daily, as we all should. The passion, drive, non-violent dedication and justice mindset of Black heroes should be honored daily and looked upon for inspiration, strength and wisdom as we each discern how to handle race relations and current events in this nation. We should honor those we quote, learn about and praise by integrating their thoughts and actions into our response. February taught us about the select few, now go and dig deep, there is much wisdom to grow from.

Read more from Candy Gibson.