A Month to Reflect: Celebrating Black History
February is a time to acknowledge African American history and achievements. As the celebration has evolved from a week in February to the entire month, it has impacted not only the United States, but the entire world. Black History Month now includes themes, webinars and parades. Respecting its origins and embracing the future allow us to memorialize those who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of the African American community.
In 1926 the Father of Black History, Carter G. Woodson, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) established the second week of February as “Negro History Week.” Two birth dates set this time apart: Abraham Lincoln’s on February 12, 1809 and Frederick Douglass’ on February 14, 1818. Forty three years later, in 1969, Black United Students at Kent State University proposed a month-long celebration in honor of African American influences, and in 1970, the University observed the first Black History Month.
It wasn’t until 1976, when America was celebrating her bicentennial, that Black History Month was acknowledged by President Gerald Ford. The President urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Just a decade later, 1986 became an important year in black history. It marked the first celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday, and the United States of America designated the month of February as “National Black History Month.” President Ronald Reagan’s Proclamation 5443 stated, “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.”
The following year, 1987, the United Kingdom designated October as their Black History Month. Canada followed in 1995, but the Canadian Senate did not recognize February as Black History Month until 2008. October of 2010 was the first month-long celebration of Black History in Ireland. Black citizens of the United States brought about a worldwide recognition of Black culture, history and accomplishments.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH TODAY
The official African American History Month website is full of history, events and memorials. Here, you can find the celebration theme for 2022 and years past. 1928 brought the first theme of Civilization: A World Achievement. Past themes include Great Negro Educators (Teachers) in 1952, Afro Americans in the United States in 1983 and Black Business in 1998. Black Health and Wellness is the theme for 2022. This year’s theme focuses on Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine as well as black associates in the medical community, such as midwives and herbalists. Black medical facilities like Meharry Medical College, Howard University College of Medicine, and Morehouse School of Medicine will be acknowledged, as well as the topic of mental health. Mental health in the black community has publicly evolved with Podcasts like Therapy for Black Girls, hosted by Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D.
Carter G. Woodson, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (formerly ASNLH), and many others wanted the public to acknowledge and respect Black history. Acknowledgment can be accomplished through educating, celebrating and embracing. One way to both learn and celebrate BHM is through historical tours like Roundabout Atlanta’s Black History and Civil Rights Tour, which gives the public a better understanding of Civil Rights in Georgia.
A list of topic-related books has been dedicated to this year’s theme and can be found at the African American History Month Website. Books include: Black Women’s Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability by Stephanie Evans and Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington. These books are an excellent way to educate the public about Black Health and Wellness.
Festivals in Atlanta are always worth your time and 2022 marks the second annual Virtual Black History Month Festival starting February 1, 2022 at 6:30pm. There will be two sessions, one on Black Bodies titled, Part I: Exploitation in Medicine, takes place Saturday, February 12, 2022. The second, Black Bodies, Part II: Race norming in the NFL, is scheduled for Sunday, February 27, 2022. The first session will discuss the history of medicine, clinical practice, and policies that have impacted African American health and contributed to disparities. Part II will address health and well-being among Black athletes.
Another way to celebrate the month is by attending the annual Black History Month Parade in Atlanta, which normally takes place in the Historic Sweet Auburn District of Downtown Atlanta. However, due to COVID-related parade restrictions and with the safety of participants and viewers in mind, the parade will be virtual for 2022. Virtual parade registration is available on the site and open until February 11, 2022.
Black History Month has evolved over the decades, but the premise is clear. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham described the memorial during her 2021 ASALH presidency by stating, “Black History Month is not a token. It is a special tribute—a time of acknowledgement, of reflection, and inspiration—that comes to life in real and ongoing activities throughout the year, just as the work of ASALH has for 106 years steadily asserted both racial pride and the centrality of race and the black experience to the American narrative and heritage.” May we all recognize the accomplishments of African Americans and appreciate the path traveled while looking to what lies ahead.