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3rd Place Essay Winner: Jonathan D. Fennell

Jonathan D. Fennell | 2/26/2009, 12:08 a.m.

€Why is Black History Month Important?€
When people ask, €What is the importance of Black History Month?€ the question is often met with an answer similar to the importance of remembering the struggles and triumphs of blacks in America, as well as acknowledging the African American figures that changed our history. Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History, stated that, €If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.€ To me, Black History Month is important because it is the passing down if the legacies of those who have impacted our lives, reflecting on their contributions, and ensuring that these legacies are not abandoned. However, the gems of black history that remain unseen in the view of the world are those stories about individual family members who do not have their own section in the history books. Though my family recognizes the prominent African American figures and their impact on our lives, we pay particular homage to the members of our family that have significant importance to our identity. One such member of our family is my grandfather. I would like to give the opportunity for everyone to embrace a history known only to a few.

From what I remember of my grandfather Watson, he was wise and thoughtful, kind and caring, friendly and unselfish. I have yet to encounter a family member that has not come in contact with the love of my grandfather. He could always be counted on for support if you needed help or even if he thought you needed help. This element of his personality is why Black History Month is important to me. My grandfather did whatever he could for his immediate and extended family, as well as for those that were not related to him at all. But they didn€t have to be. He would give the clothes on his back if it were to help someone get through the day, and not want anything in return. It is unfortunate that today, especially because of the current state of the world, lots of people lost sight of helping others just out of kindness instead of taking advantage.

He was that grandfather that did not necessarily hand out money to all of his grandkids at every visit, but instead gave pieces if his intellect that were worth more than any kind of currency. One of his subtle virtues of wisdom was exhibited throughout his life: making something from nothing. He took his entrepreneurial spirit and founded a series of business ventures such as a gasoline station, restaurant, and a neighborhood social venue.

In addition, a legacy the he leaves behind and is carried on visibly through my family in particular is his strong work ethic. After returning from World War II, where he was recognized for his marksmanship, my grandfather relocated to New Jersey, where he worked over 40 years as a union laborer. If my father inherited anything else from his father, it would be his work ethic. Both he and my grandfather were the €work before leisure€ type that always went above and beyond the minimum of what was required. I may think of them as workaholics, but they would agree that it is necessary because there is nothing optional when it comes to advancement. To accomplish any constructive or progressive goals, ascend corporate ladders, or qualify for anything competitively, African Americans, especially Black males, must go further than what is required, and do so exceptionally; for there are no free lunches. Booker T. Washington himself stated that, €Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.€

This serves as a testament to me as well. Because of the work ethic example my grandfather, my own father pushes me to do the same. Asking for extra credit or completing optional assignments in school has become a ritual. Although most of my teachers do not offer such assignments, it is the mentality of going above and beyond my peers and standing out as a student that helps ensure not only academic success, but also success in the work world. Even now, as we as a people embark on this historic chapter in Black History, electing the first African-American as the 44th president of our country, we can witness the remarkable product of what happens when one man goes above and beyond the rest. Barack Obama would be nowhere near where he is today had he not had an exceptional, focused, and determined work ethic. My grandfather died at the age of 86, one and a half months before the historic election. Before he passed, my dad asked him how he felt about seeing a black president in his lifetime. My grandfather replies, €It€s about time.€

My grandfather worked as hard as he could for as long as he could so that his family€s life could be easier. As Frederick Douglas said, €People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.€ My grandfather lived out this statement to the fullest. What I have, as a young Black man in America, is the opportunity to carry on the legacy of accomplishing anything through hard work, support and focus. Often times, I come across academic and social obstacles that make me want to stop and say, €I can€t do this.€ But as the theme of the President-elect Obama€s campaign was, €Yes we can€, any doubt that I have is now changed to €Yes I can€ and €Yes I will€. This is why Black History Month is important to me.