Today marks the 35th anniversary of the celebration of Black History Month, also commonly referred to as African-American History Month. What began in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Month is now celebrated in February to commemorate and highlight the accomplishments of Africans in the diaspora. So, from February first until the last day in the month it will not be uncommon to see events that are directed and sponsored to help celebrate these achievements. Anyone who is tuned in to popular culture might have heard a comic or two question why the shortest calendar month was chosen. Why not January, July, October, or December? Those months have thirty-one days and do not suffer the effect of leap years they jest. While comics banter light heartedly, critics have weighed in and suggested that if black history truly is Amerian history then it need not be celebrated. To that I say it needs to be celebrated for the same reason that while Barack Obama is America's president he is Black America's president too.
This Sunday as I sat in church and watched a group of ladies dance I was moved. I was elevated because more than all art forms, dance is such a pure expression of freedom. I worship at a predominantly black church because I prefer the culture of the black church. So, for almost five minutes, I watched the women move gracefully, many of them in their late fifties and sixties. I desired that I would have such agility in my old age, but more than that the fluidity of their movements, leaps, and pirouettes, were a reminder of a much greater freedom. That from slavery and that to me was worth leaping for. The United States of America respected and granted its inhabitants the right to worship freely but still endorsed slavery for seventy six more years. When African-Americans praise God and leap and jump and shout out in the aisles, it is a testament to freedom, freedom of worship and freedom from slavery.
Undeniably, there is a need for Black History Month just like there will always be a need to never forget the day Barack Obama was sworn in as President. The need to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Madame C.J. Walker, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, Condoleeza Rice, Oprah Winfrey, Johnson H. Johnson, Billie Holiday, Michael Jordan, Colin Powell amongst others will always persist. But as much as Black History Month is a reminder of accomplishments, it should also be a call to responsiblity and a time for deep reflection and to ask the all important question of what we are doing with our freedom. We did not become free to shake our behinds on national television, invest our money in consumer goods while our net worth suffers or lead the nation in new cases of HIV infections. We are better than that. We are a huge market and our presence should be felt not just only in the cash registers of department stores but in the halls of the Ivy Leagues, in government, in the film industry, technology and everywhere else there is a name to be made in the pursuit of something positive. But while we work towards that, Black History Month is and will always be celebrated in February.