Often times people will ask me, “What does Black History Month mean to me?” So let me first explain what black is to me, then why Black History Month matters.
Growing up in Brentwood, Long Island, NY, I never really knew what it had meant to be black. Most of the kids who lived in my area were either black, Hispanic, or of some foreign nationality. There wasn’t much talk about race on a daily basis. We all went to school, came home, played out in the streets together, then went home. The color of my skin was just that—a color. We were all the same to me and I was fine with that.
But then I moved to Lawrenceville, GA. Where the farms and fields were plenty, so many dull two lane roads, and a grocery store so far that walking, like I did in NY, was not an option. Everyone said yes sir or yes ma’am. Sweet tea was somehow different than iced tea. The sun seemed to be down the block over the summers as opposed to light years away. Oh yeah, pollen was not just micro-particles any more, but more like the south’s version of snow.
From those days on, I took it upon myself to get educated about being black and found pride in who I was. I read books, watched more TV tailored to those like me, I made new friends with people accepted me for who I was and would drive me to be a version of myself, not someone else. I embraced an identity of blackness. A group that had it harder than others, came from much less, were looked upon as less than, but I didn’t care. If I considered myself to be something other than what I was, I might as well have been nothing at all. Coming to Georgia taught me what it was to be black and I will forever be grateful because I am black and beautiful.
I dedicated myself to helping others realize what I had realized at such a young age. To be proud of who you are, and to be who you are. In college I devoted myself to an organization that would enhance the black male experience and not only aid in, but demand excellence. I became aware politically and socially. I for once in my life had come into microcosmic encounters of what prior generations had faced in full force. Reflecting on racist situations created a greater sense of respect to those who had to endure so much more than I could ever fathom. In turn it also created a greater sense of responsibility to embrace my fellow man and connect with them in ways others would not understand because of who we were. It changed me. BHM challenged me every year to truly find out who I am, where I come from, where I intended to go, and how many I could take with me.
Today’s society doesn’t make it any easier. Black people are often told to forget what happened, or get over it. But how? It is ingrained into who we are. In this day and age so many of us are still not equal whether we want to believe it or not. No one will forget the holocaust. No one will forget 9/11. And I am far from saying those events are unworthy of remembering, but somehow the tragic events of slavery, segregation and racism are irrelevant and no one is to blame. These are the reasons the gaps remain unbridged. These are the reasons the tensions are forever real. This is why I cling to black history and will never forget.
So Black History Month to me is not just a conglomerate of days with a title. It is a month long celebration of all that those before me had to endure and still endure to this day. It is a testament to the many that came before me and sacrificed often times everything they had including their lives, to pave the way for the next one up.
It is a beacon of hope for the many that find themselves hiding behind impersonations and false identities. It is a birthday for so many who left the earth so early fighting for what they believed in and some just going about their business. It is a statement to the world that no matter how many times you are beaten, broken, turned away, segregated, devalued or defamed, you can rise again. You will rise again. Because we rose again.