Black History Month - Why I Celebrate
By Phyllis Johnson, Senior Director Brand Development & Own Brands, Catalina
With the arrival of every new year, my thoughts quickly turn to February and our nation’s acknowledgement/recognition of Black History Month. I begin to think on how will I celebrate the month? Will I attend a Black history parade? Attend a Black history community breakfast? Speak at a virtual Black history conference? Or be the first in line to purchase all the Black history month items at Target before they sell out? (The struggle is real).
While all these things I have done and can do again; this year I decided to take a step back, slow down, think, and be more intentional about why I celebrate Black History Month. For me, there was no better way to start than at the beginning and understand the origins of this special celebration.
Carter G. Woodson, known as the Father of Black History, launched Negro History Week in 1926. He extensively studied the history of the African diaspora (which included African American history) and was concerned the role and importance of African Americans in our nation’s history was being ignored, altered, and misrepresented. Woodson created this week’s long celebration to bring focus and visibility to all the great contributions of African Americans.
Recognizing the entire month was first proposed in 1969 by Black educators and students at Kent State University and first celebrated in February 1970. In 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the U.S. Bicentennial. Since that time, every U.S. President has designated February as Black History Month.
By slowing down and being thoughtful, I realized the reasons Woodson stated for starting Negro History Week are the same reasons I celebrate Black History Month. The contributions and impact of great African Americans on our nation still needs to be known, recognized, and celebrated. Their stories should be told over and over again. Through difficult circumstances, tremendous roadblocks and even threats to their very lives, they persevered.
So, I celebrate Black History Month because Bessie Coleman was the first African American female and Native American to hold a pilot’s license, despite zero flight training opportunities in the United States for someone like her. She received her training and license in France.
I celebrate Black History Month because after the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870, thousands of Black men (many former slaves) became involved in the political process by voting and getting elected to various government positions on local, state, and national levels.
I celebrate Black History Month because I want the stories of Fannie Lou Hamer, Matthew Alexander Henson, Edward Bouchet, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Mary Ellen Pleasant, Cathay Williams, and Shirley Chisholm to be equally well known as Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr.
I celebrate Black History Month to honor all those who came before me and shaped my view of community, myself, and our collective potential. Thus, I will continue to celebrate by taking advantage of every opportunity to tell their incredible stories and lift them up as examples of greatness that shines through the darkness. To strengthen our hope for a better and brighter world, I celebrate Black History.