Last week we had a lovely conversation about love. This week, I wanted to pay tribute to the fact that here in the United States it is Black History Month. First, we need way more than a month to celebrate the myriad achievements, accomplishments, and successes of black people in this country. But since we have limited time, I want to share a few examples of people who have inspired me, and who are the epitome of black excellence. See this week’s video here: https://youtu.be/oXJr_WaaG5g
I heard it said once that America loves to categorize people. You have to choose a role or different roles for your life. Some roles will come more to the forefront at different times in your life and at different moments. I am for example, an immigrant, a UW-Madison Badger, an oldest child, a Sagittarius, a small business owner, a lawyer/librarian, a spiritual enthusiast, a woman, resident unicorn, book lover, and so much more. But one thing is always at the forefront in America, and that is that I am black.
I was born in another country, but when I came to America, I became very aware of this fact. I remember being teased for my accent and told, “Go back to Africa,” and innocently and naively replying, “But I am not from Africa. I am from Jamaica.” In the breathtakingly beautiful book, Americanah,
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes, “Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.” She also says, “Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice.” And it is true. When you come from a predominantly black country—I think that even as a child, you don’t necessarily think about race as much. Classism perhaps more, and even colorism, but even those additional byproducts of colonialism, move further down on the totem pole than race.
Jamaica’s motto is “Out of Many One People” based on the multiracial roots of the population.
There are many influences from around the world that contributed to the makeup of the Jamaican people. This includes: African ancestry (primarily from West Africa), British, Scottish, Irish, Southeast Asian to include Indian, Chinese, and Lebanese, Spanish, and the original Taino/Arawak Indians.
It is not uncommon to meet someone who might be a combination of at least several of these different types of lineage. In my own lineage, the predominance is African heritage, but there is also Indian (from South Indian), Scotland, Cuba, and Ireland. These are what we can trace to some extent. The cruel institution of slavery robbed a large percentage of people in the Western Hemisphere of the ability to trace their ancestry back very far. The things that I have been able to unearth have been helpful in helping me to understand myself. Why do I like the things that I do? Why might I be drawn to a particular place? I do think of all of my ancestors and how the crossing of their paths would eventually lead to me. For that I am thankful.
Jumping back to America, when you come to America with black skin, you become very aware that as far as this nation is concerned, you are black before anything else. As you get older, in addition to dealing with the things that come along with growing up, you are also learning how to hold this aspect of your being as sacred. You are learning how to love what you have been taught to believe is not something worth loving. From your hair to your hips to your lips.
The past year has been an epic reminder about the harm that systematic racism and white supremacy have on this nation. But this blog and video is not about that, we have had plenty of that… this is instead a reminder that even in the midst of pain, grief, and the obstacles that are thrust in your path when you have black skin, that there are also things to celebrate. The brilliant minds, the triumphant smiles, wit, skills, talent, creative gifts, just the presence, and so much more. There is joy, laughter, and love to be held as sacred. There is Black girl magic to sprinkle across the spacious skies, the amber waves of grain, the purple mountain majesties, and the fruited plains.
First, how did Black History Month come into being? In 1913 on the 50th anniversary of the 13thAmendment (The Emancipation Proclamation), Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
In 1926, the group instituted Negro History Week. They chose the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Negro History Week gained recognition in different cities across the country. During the Civil Rights Movements of the 50s and the 60s, it gained increased attention. In 1976, then president Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month. He asked Americans to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” And they have been quite the accomplishments. Here are a few:
· Benjamin Banneker—farmer, astronomer, and mathematician among other things created the first clock in America.
· Dr. Charles Drew invented a way of separating and storing plasma, which allowed for blood banks and millions of lives saved.
· Oliver Brown wins his supreme court case, “Brown vs. Board of Education,” where they declared separate but equal unconstitutional.
· George Sampson created the clothes dryer.
· Althea Gibson is the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon.
· Lewis Latimer invented the carbon filament that let light bulbs be commercialized.
· Ruth Carol Taylor became the first Black flight attendant in the United States
· In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his I have a dream speech.
· Daniel Hale Williams not only established the Provident Hospital and Training School Association in Chicago, but in 1893 he performed the first open heart surgery. It was the first time a patient’s chest cavity had been opened, and they did not die from infection.
· In 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first black Supreme Court Justice.
· In 1968, Shirley Chisholm becomes the first black woman elected to Congress. She was the first black person and first woman to run for president of the United States. She wanted to be remembered “not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency…but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be herself.”
· In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first black person in space.
· Alice H. Parker created the gas heating furnace.
· In 1985 Gwendolyn Brooks became the first black U.S. Poet Laureate
· Garrett Morgan created the gas mask and the modern traffic signal.
· In 1990 Douglas Wilder became the first black governor of any U.S. state.
· Alfred Cralle created the ice cream scooper in 1897
· Phillip Downing created the mail box.
· There are so many more inventions like: the mop, the modern toilet, the modern lock, pacemakers, pencil sharpeners, super soakers, potato chips, touch telephone, video game cartridges, the traffic light, lawn mower, lawn sprinkler, ironing board, blimps, automatic elevator doors, dust pans, blimps, and suspenders.
Beyond this rather impressive list of accomplishments, each day there is someone who is contributing to the collective history of this nation in some amazing way. There are some people throughout history who I have also really admired. This is a hard list to make because there have been so many notable people. I will share some quotes by a few favorites.
Maya Angelou: Well she’s here because she is one of my favorites. Writer, poet, activist, all around phenomenal woman. She said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduce by them.” She also said, “Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.”
Gwendolyn Brooks: Probably one of America’s most famous poets. Her words ring sweetly on the ears. ““Exhaust the little moment. Soon it dies. And be it gash or gold it will not come. Again in this identical disguise.” “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” “We don’t ask a flower any special reason for its existence. We just look at it and are able to accept it as being something different from ourselves.”
James Baldwin: I have mentioned Baldwin before, because he is always somewhere in my mind. Whenever I see any sort of injustice, I almost feel him looking at me, inspiring me to speak. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
W.E.B. DuBois: DuBois was many things—historian, educator, civil rights activist and sociologist among other things. He said, ““Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”
Zora Neale Hurston: An amazing writer, anthropologist, and folklorist, she was wise and filled with insight about the world around her. She said, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” “Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” And this, “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
Jane Bolin: The first African American woman to graduate from Yale Law School, and also the first black woman judge in the United States. She said, “Those gains we have made were never graciously and generously granted. We have had to fight every inch of the way.”
Ruby Bridges: The first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South, she said, “Don’t follow the path. Go where there is no path and begin the trail. When you start a new trail equipped with courage, strength and conviction, the only thing that can stop you is you!” She also said, “I now know that experience comes to us for a purpose, and if we follow the guidance of the spirit within us, we will probably find that the purpose is a good one.”
Alvin Ailey: The famous dancer, choreographer and activist, he revolutionized the participation of African Americans in dance. He founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. He said, “I am trying to show the world that we are all human beings and that color is not important. What is important is the quality of our work.” “I wanted to explore black culture and I wanted that culture to be a revelation.” He also said, “Dance is for everybody. I believe that dance came from the people and that is should be delivered back to the people.”
Rebecca Lee Crumpler: The first African American woman doctor in the United States, she said, “I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others.” “Selfish prudence is too often allowed to come between duty and human life.”
Lorraine Hansberry: An incredibly talented writer, she wrote, “A Raisin in the Sun.” She said, ““I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough and — I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.”
George Washington Carver: An agricultural scientist and inventor, he discovered hundreds of products that benefited all of America. He had some great quotes. “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” “Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate within will eventually destroy the hater.” “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” “There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation – veneer isn’t worth anything.” “Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible.”
There is so much that can be celebrated, and so many people doing good, blazing a trail (either loudly or quietly) each day. My cousin said that there is a temptation to believe that African American history began in Jamestown in 1619, but there is black history before slavery.
It is important to note that in American history, there has been slavery longer than there has not. As America attempts to reconcile it’s sordid history, we must also remember that there is a rich legacy that inspires, uplifts, encourages, and reminds us of what we can overcome. The legacy of not just surviving, but of living, loving, and thriving is also part of our birthright. I hope that you learned something interesting or felt inspired by one of the quotes from one of these amazing people. I also hope that you will do your own research, and see that black history is American history.
To celebrate this month, one of my besties over at Puzzles and Bloom is offering a 30% off discount code for their amazing puzzle which celebrate the beauty, diversity, and culture of black people! Use discount 30%OFF and check them out at: https://puzzleandbloom.com/
May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may you realize that you are your ancestors wildest dreams.