2nd Place - Brianna Little
10th grade - Benjamin Banneker Academic
High School in Washington, DC
From February first through the twenty-eighth, we celebrate Black History Month. This celebration of black achievements began as “Negro History Week,” as proclaimed by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson chose the second week in February to be Negro History Week because it contained the birthdays of two people who were very influential to the lives and rights of black people---former president Abraham Lincoln and former slave Fredrick Douglass. Black History Month has been celebrated in the United States since 1976.
The culture of black people is so rich that there no question as to whether Black History is important; it is a given. Like all history, it provides us with a clear sense of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. It gives us inspiration to be as great as or greater than our predecessors. Black History is especially important because of the adversity that had to be overcome. Strides taken to challenge this adversity are all the more cause for celebration.
Oppression is a word that immediately comes to mind when I think of the phrase Black History. It is a word that is heavily used in the black community but I want to get out of the habit of always coupling it with my past. Although oppression is an undeniably important part of black history, I want more positive aspects to instanta-neously pop into my head, such as accomplishments, inventions, and broken records. I think the month of February should be spent celebrating contributions and not dwelling on drawbacks.
We have not always been enslaves and betrayed by white people. The truth is, there are many whites and other non-blacks who have had great influence on the black community. One such person was Danny Lyon, a photographer, writer and filmmaker whose photos exposed violence and injustice toward blacks in the south. Although Danny Lyon is not black, he is fused into my history and I am compelled to appreciate that. Ultimately, by focusing on oppression, we lose sight of moving forward and stand in the way of our own goals.
During the month of February, we always honor the names of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mal-colm X and other well-known civil rights activists. What we almost always fail to recognize are the names of lesser-known blacks who have made important contributions in other areas of black culture. I never hear about Jimi Hendrix, the greatest guitar player that has ever lived, nor do I hear of Lewis Howard Latimer, who drafted patent drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Not only is it important to acknowledge civil rights leaders, but other influential blacks as well.
Black History Month is a time when I think about privileged I am to be about to go to public school with kids of other races, to not have to worry about drinking from a “colored-only” water fountain, and to sit wherever I want to on the bus. This year I will try to see things differently, making sure I include little-known black visionaries as well as non-blacks that have helped the progression of my race in my celebrations of the excellence and cour-age that has brought black people to where we are now.