The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity
By Ashalul Aden
Black History Month is an annual celebration during the month of February. It was created by African Americans to recognize and honor the history of Black people around the globe.
Before it was a month-long celebration, Black History Month was just a week. Carter G. Woodson, a Black historian, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in 1915 to recognize and study Black history. In 1926, the ASNLH created and promoted Negro History Week to celebrate the history and achievements of Black people.
The Civil Rights Movement began in the mid 1950s with the goal of ending racial discrimination, racial segregation and voting disenfranchisement. This movement multiplied efforts that renewed a sense of self in Black Americans. The Black Panther Party, along with the Black Power Movement, emphasized racial pride and the creation of cultural institutions and studies. For example, in 1968, James Brown released his song, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
With all of these movements intertwined, Negro History Week became more and more celebrated. Black Americans wanted more time to recognize the struggle they face and more time to honor their ancestors. Finally, in 1976, 50 years after the first celebration, President Gerald Ford officially designated February as Black History Month. Since then, the month of February is dedicated to honoring and remembering Black people and recognizing that the struggle for true racial equity and equality is still not done.
Now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the organization determines an annual theme of the celebration to draw attention to important issues. For 2021 it is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”
This February signals extra significance: It’s the 45th anniversary of the month-long celebration. Current events have also refocused the spotlight. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a police officer in broad daylight in Minneapolis, reminding us that the world is not a safe place for Black people. Racism exists, and we all need to work to end it. If we want to live in a loving community, we need to work together to ensure every person can live freely and safely.
As a Black American, this month is special to me and to Black people all around the world as a celebration of our triumph. During this month, we remember and give thanks to our ancestors who shed their blood, sweat and tears to ensure we live in a world where we can be Black and free.
This fight is not finished. Throughout the world, Black people are discriminated against, violated and harassed for their identity. The constant pain not only impacts their physical health, but also their mental and emotional health. To be treated as non-human is an unexplainable feeling. There is trauma in the collective Black experience. However, this month gives us clarity and a sense of renewal that there will be a day where Black people are free, autonomous beings living in a world that validates and embraces their identity.
Black History Month is often celebrated and then forgotten after the month ends. In 2021, I want that to change. I challenge every person reading this to celebrate and uplift Black people—not just in February, but throughout the year. In addition to that, commit to being anti-racist and helping to build a world that oppresses no one. Change is hard, but without doing the hard work, there will never be change. To paraphrase Hellen Keller “Alone, I can accomplish only so much. Together, we can accomplish anything.”
Black History Month will be celebrated in Rochester in 2021. The Diversity Council plans to hold some events. Find them listed on their website: diversitycouncil.org.