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What Black History Taught Me About Being Black

I grew up in Charleston South Carolina, just about 7 miles from the port where Africans and Caribbean’s had been transported like animals in the belly of slave ships and sold on the auction block. I grew up learning the history of my ancestors from my parents, and the adults in my church and community. By the time I reached high school, I remember participating in Black History Bowls. I read the works of James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Huston, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Nikki Giovanni and many others. I devoured “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” I memorized and performed excerpts from Lorrain Hansberry’s “A Raisin In The Sun.” I listened to recordings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and labored over the entire collection of Black History encyclopedia’s that my fathered purchased for our small home library. In college I wrote a play (which earned me an A+) on the conflict and commonalities of W.E.B. Dubois and Fredrick Douglass. I later produced this play at my church in honor of Black History Month.

I was fortunate to have so much of my history at my fingertips. Most black people that I know did not grow up with that knowledge or the resources in their schools, churches or homes. Most got bits and pieces of black history from television during the month of February, designated as “Black History Month.” Black History Month was established in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, a half century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. Did you get that? Black History Month was started in 1915, yet many of our adults and young people know so little of their history and people still debate over why black history should be recognized or taught.

You may ask, well what difference does it make? It makes a huge difference in how you make choices. When you know where you come from, the struggles and the successes of your people make sense. You understand that you can rise above any circumstance, that you can envision a higher existence, that you deserve to be heard, that you come from Kings and Queens, inventors, engineers, doctors, philanthropists, artists, singers, writers, architects and freedom fighters. You realize that you don’t have to step on someone else to stand tall. You understand why the black community is so loving, giving and forgiving. You comprehend why it’s so important to teach your children their history and why it’s so important to be a voice for others who are being oppressed in any way.

I encourage you to look up some of the people I mentioned, learn about black history because it is American history. Learn how this country was built, literally on the backs of black people. None of us would be where we are in this country were it not for the many sacrifices of black people. You don’t have to be a black person to appreciate the contributions. You just have to be human and grateful, as I am.

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