by Marc Ridgell ‘19
Black History Month was first recognized as “Black History Week” by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Fifty years later, black history week extended to Black History Month. One may ask, what is the importance of black history?
As an African-American student myself, black history has represented a part of my identity, ever since I was in the first grade. When I started the first grade at St. Dorothy Catholic School, a predominantly-black grammar school located on Chicago’s southeast side, my teachers emphasized the passion for hard work to mirror the work historical black leaders had done. Every February, my school would produce a Black History Month event with all grades participating. For these events, not only would selected students read poetry and sing music from African-American artists, but reflect on why, as millenials, black history was important to us.
My grammar school highlighted to its student body that it was important to become creative and individualistic leaders to appreciate our freedom that civil rights activists, like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, worked hard to gain equality for future generations. At St. Dorothy, we acknowledged these leaders and prominent writers of the time like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin throughout the year, but in February, we celebrated their writing accomplishments and impacts on society today.
Coming to Brother Rice, it was crucial that I bring these cultural influences with me from grammar school. Like Black History Month, other cultural celebratory months, like Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (celebrated in May) and National Hispanic Heritage Month (celebrated between September and October) are as important celebrations in schools. These celebrations are not merely for students of color, but for all students to appreciate and respect the racial struggles and socioeconomic downsides that these races faced in the past to guarantee a diverse and valuable life for their future descendants.
Celebrating black history in the Brother Rice community is relevant and present. Brother Rice students have attended the African-American Heritage Mass since 1996 at the Holy Name Cathedral.
Mr. McAuliffe is a Brother Rice history teacher and the Diversity Club moderator who has chaperoned the trip to the African-American Heritage Mass previously. He provided insight on how Brother Rice keeps the history alive: “I believe it is important to recognizing black leaders because it better helps us to understand the accomplishments and privileges that have been gained and keeps the ‘awareness’ alive in the Brother Rice community. As a history teacher, I believe in being a positive influence to my students. I believe I have an excellent opportunity to continue to deliver a powerful message to my students regarding culture and diversity on a daily basis through discussion and academic integration.”
Junior Malcolm Butler-Kindle said that one of the reasons it is important for schools to celebrate Black History Month is, “the acknowledgement of the struggles that black students have gone through, like Ruby Bridges, and that they are continuing to go through.”
Not only is Black History Month celebrated in schools, it also is celebrated at city attractions, for example, a museum. One museum that holds events for Black History Month is the DuSable Museum of African American History, located near the University of Chicago. DuSable Museum states that its mission is “to promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions, and experiences of African Americans through exhibits, programs, and activities that illustrate African and African American history, culture and art.”
Receptionist Donovan Slaughter of the DuSable Museum says that he learns the most about the museum because of “the people.” He said, “I’ve met people who have walked with Dr. King, people who have campaigned with Barack Obama, and people who have worked with Malcolm X.” In his opinion, he believes a great way for the cycle of knowledge to circulate is to “read one, [then] teach one.” This means that if one obtains knowledge from someone who has experienced history firsthand, pass it on to further the network of intellectuality.
From schools to communities, celebrating cultural history is vital for the inclusivity of diversity among all students of all ethnicities. If there was one aspect of Black History Month that is most important, it is that regardless of any ethnicity or any other identity marker, everyone is human, and we are equal and capable of any capacity of success and leadership. When we see injustice and oppression, we speak out against it–and we work toward building a better future for those who have been oppressed. From Martin Luther King to Rosa Parks, from Huey Newton to Myrlie Evers-Williams, from James Baldwin to Maya Angelou, these are all civil rights activists and leaders who spoke out against injustice and fought against oppression when it affected their community.
Everyone should be inspired by these civil rights leaders, and that is why it is so important to celebrate their history and how it has impacted today’s generation.