Why Black History Month Matters

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Editor’s Note: Over the next several days, Pass The Chalk features posts in honor of Black History Month. We do so in full recognition that any day, week, or month, set aside to commemorate the history and experiences of a group of people runs the risk of siloing those perspectives in the oeuvre of shared human experience. It is not enough to talk about black history for one month out of the year. But in shining a spotlight on the perspectives and experiences of African-Americans in the coming days, we seek to lend ourselves a richer vocabulary to better understand the challenges and hopes of our shared human condition.

This post was originally published on The Monitor and has been reprinted with permission.

In 1926, historian, philosopher, and scholar Carter G. Woodson declared the second week of February as "Negro History Week."

With the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass falling in that second week, it was only appropriate to celebrate a history systematically left out of curriculum and national consciousness would occur when the nation was celebrating the lives of two freedom fighters. Woodson’s original intent was that this week would no longer need to exist when Black History was justly represented in the story of America.

Ninety-three years later, I am pushed to consider two questions: Why does Black History month matter? And why does Black History month matter down here in the Rio Grande Valley?


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Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Children near the Washington Monument.] Photo by U.S. National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons 

To me, Black History Month is one way we as a nation can commit to the study and celebration of a history of change. A history of freedom, equality, and justice denied. A history of oppression and opportunity. A history of contradictions and compromise. A history of the pursuit of the American dream. A history of this American dream deferred. This history seems to embody the American spirit and power that Margaret Meade famously stated in these words: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

This story of change is what compels me to study and celebrate black history down here on the Mexico-U.S. border. Our community has much to celebrate— increased graduation rates, the opening of new early college academies, drop in unemployment rates — but we are still in need of change.

With 91 percent of the population in the RGV identifying as Hispanic, there is only a 12 percent likelihood of earning a college degree six years out of high school according to our most recent Census data. This compounded with the plight of the colonias, aggressive patrolling on the border, a heated immigration debate, a widening gap between the "haves" and "have nots," and policies that deny medical and essential care to the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged — the pain of our community is real.

This pain is what connects me to black history, and it’s the promise and hope embodied in this history that makes me study it. The lessons of leadership, community and love are as relevant today as they were then, and with a growing and diverse black population here in the Valley, now is the time to embody the spirit of partnership, love, and community captured by the civil rights movement.

When I look to the potential of 2013 to get our entire community one step closer to creating an ecosystem where the Valley and its residents are truly thriving, I can’t help but look at the relevant stories of the past.

Martin Luther King Jr. aptly stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. . .whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." In our pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, let’s stay grounded in the lessons of those who fought for our justice, equity and representation. We have a long way to go, but if we continue sharing and learning from each others’ history, progress will surely be made.