Shaloun Mims is a student at The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and a Cengage student ambassador
Throughout my academic journey, the meaning of Black History Month has changed tremendously. As an African American student, I spent my early years engulfing myself in the stories of trailblazers like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglass. The first widely accepted Black musicians, activists, and inventors were the leaders of the proliferation of African American culture. Their stories were to be studied, memorized, and recited yearly. Black History Month was the celebration of their stories and how they paved the way for the lives of Black people today. Overall, I’d say Black History Month signified the acceptance of Black people as their own identifiable culture in America, valued regardless of their oppression.
Broadening my understanding of cultural identity has opened my eyes to a new meaning of Black History Month. It’s not just about George Washington Carver discovering the value in a peanut crop or Garrett Morgan patenting the first traffic light. It’s about the period of rediscovery following slavery and a false sense of freedom before the civil rights movement.
Black History is simply just Black people rediscovering, establishing, and then having to continue growing their identity through activism and innovation. Much like Carter G. Woodson and his associates did when they advanced Negro History Week to the full-month celebration we know today.
Knowing equality didn’t stop with the creation of Black History Month or the infamous “I Have a Dream” speech means that African American culture has yet to be properly defined and represented in this country. There’s still more work to do. Black people are still one of the most heavily discriminated against groups in this country. To me, Black History Month is a time to recognize the progression of Black people and how much more can still be done.
How faculty and institutions should honor Black History Month
As we battle new issues based on the same disadvantages our leaders faced, Black History Month should showcase current progression. The progression of legislation, community, and sense of identity for Black people looks quite different now. This difference is the result of the rise of newer generations, technological advancements, and the overall modernization of “equality.” Our celebrations and acknowledgment should grow alongside society.
To further amplify this version of Black History Month, educational institutions can focus on more relevant topics regarding Black culture. Focusing on more recent legislative issues within the Black community instead of only memorializing things from the past. While our “history” holds so much value, only focusing on certain eras stunts the potential growth the African American community could be experiencing.
As we expand upon more recent issues, while connecting them to the “history,” we’ll soon find ourselves teaching a different story every year. We’ll find new solutions. Black History Month won’t just be a time to remember, it’ll be a time to take action. It’ll be a time to challenge the way things have always been done and modernize the Black History celebratory experience. It’ll be a time for all students to feel engaged with Black History and how it relates to them today.
Are you ready for tough conversations on the topic of race and equity in your classroom? Get a better understanding of the Black experience in America with a list of anti-racist reading recommendations from fellow faculty.