Each February, we honor the achievements of Black Americans and reflect on the troubled history this population has experienced. Black History Month first began in 1915, exactly 50 years since the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.
Since then, Black people in the United States still feel they’re fighting for equality. Black History Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on that fight and potentially find new ideas on how to progress. There are plenty of ways to begin down that path, getting closer to the goal of moving forward with awareness and unity. Fighting for diversity and equal pay for equal work, honoring the spirit of Black History Month year-round, and promoting social justice organizations are a few ways to get started.
The founding “Father of Black History Month”
In the summer of 1915, a Harvard-educated historian named Carter G. Woodson partnered up with a famous minister, Jesse E. Moorland to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The two found that American education offered very little about African Americans’ accomplishments. The ASNLH sought to remedy that.
Because schools were not teaching the full picture of what happened in America’s past, Woodson believed students were learning a distorted and incomplete version of history. He knew equality would only be possible with the power of knowledge.
Often called the “Father of Black History Month,” Woodson worked tirelessly to promote black stories and viewpoints. By 1926, he started Negro history Week, hoping to deepen the study and scholarship of African American contributions in the United States. His goal was for people to discuss the way Black people struggle year-round.
6 Ways to honor Black History Month
If you aren’t familiar with how to celebrate Black History Month, you don’t need to stress about it. There are plenty of ways to honor the occasion even without attending large events or putting on grand celebrations. You can participate in Black History Month at home, socially distanced, and in everyday work and life. Spreading knowledge and engaging in discussion is a powerful starting point.
1. Review history
There’s no way to move forward without first looking back. Moreover, there’s no way to tell the story of American history without talking about Black history. That means we have to understand how the treatment of Black Americans and the contributions those citizens have made to our history and culture have shaped the country.
Reviewing our past lets us see how it has impacted the present. From there, we can come to understand the best way to address what’s happening and find solutions to remedy issues. None of that can happen without a conversation acknowledging the wrongdoings of the past, present, and potential for further injustice in the future.
2. Home education
You may have heard the saying, “Education starts at home.” Parents often try to steer their child’s education as best they can by choosing quality school districts to encourage learning. Many schools will likely have lessons on Black history during this month of celebration, but it’s entirely possible those courses could fall short of what you’d hoped. It’s also possible you want to extend your child’s education further than simply dedicating one month to the cause. If you want to bolster your child’s education, take things into your own hands.
Regardless of your children’s age, you can expose them to books, art, music, or documentaries. If they are old enough, they may already be following influential leaders on social media or reading blogs and biographies on Black history. Highlighting the importance of diversity as a family will keep it top of mind year-round.
3. Virtual events
Although many pandemic restrictions have been lifted, some might still be doing their best to avoid crowded areas. The good news is more events are being held online so you can participate from the comfort of your own home. Here are a few virtual Black History Month ideas.
One great virtual option is hosted by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The museum is hosting virtual events and conversations that spotlight the historical accomplishments of African Americans all month long. All events are free and open to everyone, as long as you register.
Another option is to take a virtual tour of significant cultural sites like the Black Broadway District of Washington D.C., do virtual explorations of the Civil Rights Trail, or undergo a virtual experience of the Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery.
The museum’s main event features several renowned authors. These include, for instance, Ibram X. Kendi, who wrote “How to Be An Antiracist” and Keisha Blain, author of “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.”
4. Support Black-Owned businesses
If you want to make a difference this Black History Month, an easy way to do that is by putting your money where your mouth is. There are countless nonprofits working actively to help the Black community. Some notable ones to which you may choose to contribute include SisterLove, Black Girls Code, Black Lives Matter, 100 Black Men of America, National Society of Black Engineers, National Association of Black Journalists, Campaign Zero, or the NAACP.
You can also make a difference with for-profit businesses, which face their own unique challenges. In 2016, the Federal Reserve’s Small Business Credit Survey found that even Black-owned firms bringing in over $1 million annually have trouble getting funding, particularly when compared with firms of the same size as White owners. Black-owned firms also apply for 10% more new funding than nonminority-owned businesses, but their approval rates are 19% lower.
Given the challenges in getting funding, it’s vital to support Black-owned businesses when possible. You can find Black-owned brands by exploring your local area, or by checking out online directories.
5. Celebrate throughout the year
Black History Month is a sobering reminder of historical atrocities and the work we still have ahead to improve racial equality. While setting aside a month to honor and educate Americans about Black history is essential, empowering fellow African Americans is more than a 30-day challenge.
As we turn our attention toward the effort to spread awareness about Black culture, we can also think of ways to incorporate education and empowerment throughout the year. African American history is a part of history to be recognized daily.
6. Involve the whole family
Don’t limit education to your children only. The whole family should actively participate in open dialogue surrounding Black history. That helps children and adults alike to become more knowledgeable of their heritage. It also helps others to better understand the systemic racism the Black community has experienced. For many, ignorance is not purposeful, and having open conversations about the Black experience helps to broaden people’s understanding of their own surroundings.
Black history and heritage are both vital parts of American history. Honoring African American achievements, understanding history, holding open dialogue, and involving the entire family boosts awareness. Supporting Black-owned businesses and causes also can fuel change.
Empowering communities with financial literacy lie at the heart of change. The more progress, the more there is to celebrate.