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Celebrating Black History Month: A Reflection of African-Americans in Our History

When the topic of Black History Month is brought up, names such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and George Washington Carver are usually at the top of the list. However, what some might not know is that Black History Month has more depth than the famous “I Have a Dream…” speech or Carver’s interest in peanuts and his 300 ways of using them as resources. Black History Month is about the acknowledgement of black identity within the fabric of U.S. history; most notably, the Civil Rights Movement.

Black History Month can inform people about less commonly-known historical figures like Ruby Nell Bridges Hall — born September 8, 1954, an American activist and the first black child to attend William Frantz Elementary School, an all-white elementary school in Louisiana during the 20th century; her full story could be found on biography.com.

Westchester Community College’s President Belinda S. Miles spoke on what the month means to her:

“For me, this celebration provides an excellent opportunity for reflection. Black History Month gives us all an opportunity to become a bit more aware of how we are connected to our past, who we are as individuals, and our relationship to the larger community,” said Miles. “It is a time of pride and awareness, and an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments of the past as we look toward the future,

History.com tells us that Carter G. Woodson, a noted African American historian, educator and publisher first established “Negro History Week” in 1926 to recognize and honor the contributions of African Americans in the development of the United States. The second week of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. The Federal government would later go on to expand the week to a month-long celebration in 1976 to what we now know as National African American History Month or Black History Month.

The March on Washington, which took place in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, is arguably one of the most monumental moments in black history, where more than 200,000 Americans gathered for a political rally in the name of jobs and freedom. Organized by a number of civil rights and religious groups, the event was designed to shed light on the political and social challenges African Americans faced nationwide.

“In terms of historical moments, there are so many, but the March on Washington has special resonance for me with its focus on racial justice and equality,” said Miles.

Miles added that one her favorite historical figures is W.E.B. Du Bois.

“He was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard and he was a champion of education all of his life. He once said that ‘Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life.’ I have thought of that often in my position as a community college president,” she explained. “It is important to recognize the need for a full, liberal education which should include knowledge which can be applied to the workplace.”

Due to the widespread interest in black history, some schools have incorporated black history into their curriculum in the hopes of starting an intellectual movement that would advance social change. Social change that would open doors for more historical figures like General Colin L. Powell and President Barack Obama in the future.

Prior to his death in 1950, Carter G. Woodson pressed schools to shift from studying black history one week a year to studying black history throughout out the year. Woodson’s ultimate goal was to have black people learn of their past all year so that the annual celebration would no longer be necessary

“We need to have more crucial conversations during which we can share our thoughts and opinions and cross boundaries to develop new relationships, friendships, and understanding,” said Miles.

Countries around the world, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have also devoted a month to celebrating black history and in honor of the holiday WCC will be holding its usual full slate of cultural events that are available for viewing on the school’s website under calendar events. Events include a Black History Month opening program with keynote speaker Dennis Rahilm Watson and a Black History Month film showing of the Golden Globe and Academy Award nominated film, “Selma.”