Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, a celebration that we believe is still important despite the tremendous progress Blacks have made in the United States. If for no other reason than reminding young Blacks of the legacy they have inherited, we need to avoid the catcalls to discard this annual recognition of the Black experience in America. In 2010 we must continue the struggle for equity in this nation until the day arrives when “equal” truly means “equal,” and we are no longer told to be satisfied with some proportion of it.
Though it has been customary for media to recount the heroism of Blacks throughout American history during February, we want to take a different approach. What are you doing today to be part of the Black history narrative of the future? Surely, the pioneers we often cite during this month – Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X Sojourner Truth – lived with a sense of purpose and commitment. Their efforts were not invested in a drive for celebrity or wealth. Had Facebook, 24-hour cable news channels or Twitter existed during their lives, they likely would have seen them as great organizing tools and not simply a platform for self-promotion. Our challenge today is reclaiming the sense of purpose that got us to where we are today. It’s no simple feat, but it also is not impossible to revive the spirit and energy of bygone eras.
The first challenge is for Blacks to re-engage in the political process and community activism. Like other segments of the country, too many Black Americans have become cynical and invested far too much time in conspiracy theories and excuses. While, conditions for Blacks in this country could be far better, we should not forget that just 45 years ago our constitutional right to public accommodation and voting was enforced by acts of Congress. For all the doubts about “government” and the many theories that seek to discredit it as an institution, the progress we have experienced to date is the result of the demands we placed upon government.
We also need to do a better job supporting institutions that serve our community, including traditional civil rights groups, community based groups, and historically Black colleges and universities. When we encourage your support, we mean your active participation or financial contribution. Instead of constantly complaining that some organizations are falling short of the mark, what we suggest is lending your talents and resources to those groups that are earnest in their commitment to improve the quality of life for Black Americans, particularly Black children.
The last point provides a perfect segue to address our failure to support our children. There will be no greater test of this generation of Black adults than what we do for our children. History will judge us harshly, as it should, if we come up short in paving the way for future generations. Yes, there are obvious challenges but none as great as slavery and Jim Crow when death was often one hangman’s noose or shotgun blast away. If there is one thing we can do collectively , is do all that we can to educate our children, infuse them with a sense of self-worth and respect, and a spiritual foundation upon which to construct their lives. It has to start with adults though. We have to be prepared to sacrifice and provide unconditional love and support to our children, those that are ours by birth and those that are ours by community connection. Too many Black children are left to make it on their own, and we see the tragic result – poverty, imprisonment and anger.
Our message is simple. Use Black History Month to help write the next fabulous chapter of Black achievement in America. Whatever your contribution, big or small, future generations will benefit from it and as Donnie Hathaway once sang, “someday we’ll all be free.”