Why Celebrate Black History Month

For readers that have not been singled out for being part of an ethnic group or the color of your skin, this may be hard for you to understand.  However, when the world around you says that everything about you is wrong: your skin color, your lips, your nose, your bottom, your capacity to learn, that messes with your psyche.  As a girl, whenever I turned on the television, I rarely saw anyone who looked like me.  When I did, most often they were in roles of mammie, slave, housekeeper or maid.  It is very discouraging when you are told your lips are too big or your butt is big, you are only good at sports. We are proud Americans, but America hasn’t always been proud of us.  Therefore, you need positive images to outweigh the constant barrage of negativity that is spun around who you are and your worth in society. Even in the 21st century,  magazines lighten the skin of African-Americans that appear on their covers.  Why is this necessary?

I have always been of the mind, ignorance is not knowing and stupid is a person that has been informed but still continues to act ignorant.  For people that are ignorant and truly wanted to understand cultural differences, I welcome and answer their questions.  Understanding culture is understanding people.  I am always amazed at Americans that go abroad and complain “this is not like America.”  It’s not suppose to be!  Visiting another country requires me to learn the local customs and cultures.  It means letting go of my comfort zone and understanding something outside of me, instead of trying to make it what I am used to.  I think that defines race relations in America.  Likewise, when trying to understand the African-American culture and community, recognize it is different and requires you to come out of your comfort zone and experience it and not just hanging out with one black person.  I don’t pretend to be the voice of my culture.  I am one of its residents, some think like me, others don’t.  But that is what makes it beautiful.  We can yell, debate, but in the end we’re still part of the larger African-American family and American community. It is easy to criticize people and things that are different.  Life isn’t easy – you take the good and bad together.  American history isn’t always pretty, maybe that is why some have issues with Black History Month.  It reminds them of the not so pleasant part of our American history. African-American history is not all doom and gloom.  It is like a song that starts off slow and low, deep voices coming from afar, then booms with vitality, rhythm and life. What may have started as a funeral march, turns into a celebration of life and forward movement.

When I hear people outside my race make judgments of my race without educating themselves about the culture and our many nuances, it is frustrating to say the least. Most people still think of African-American contributions in terms of slavery, sports or music.  Whenever we are portrayed on television it is generally the worst side of our community.  There are many African-American contributions in medicine, law, business and philanthropy and beyond Civil War and Civil Rights.  However, those are rarely mentioned.

For those trying to understand Black History month, allow me to introduce you to James Weldon Johnson, a poet and writer.  Some have read his poem The Creation, but to African-Americans he is known as the writer of the “Black National Anthem,” formally titled Lift Every Voice and Sing.  He didn’t write it for that reason though.  The poem was written for a Lincoln birthday celebration in 1900 and set to music by his brother.  It was sung by young black children.  It was later dubbed the “Negro National Hymn.”  Most African-American ceremonies sing the Star-Spangled Banner and follow up with Lift Every Voice and Sing.  There is debate within some sectors of the African-American community about whether it should continue to be sung in light of strides from our past.  However, despite those debates, the words are beautiful.

Lift every voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.