During the last days of February, I’m conscious of the frenetic pace I’ve kept over the month. Like many others in the social justice community, I’ve been trying to be present and immerse myself in the overwhelming number of Black History Month options that can pass by so quickly.
I realize every year, as the sheer number of invitations, presentations, songfests, Gospel brunches, and history learning opportunities begin to wane as we transition into March, that there really is only so much we can cram into a short window of time.
In Oregon, we confront a difficult—and certainly not distant— history of discrimination, exclusion, erasure, and removal of people of color on these lands. And discovering our history, celebrating our successes and looking carefully at the remaining struggles is a way to build progress for the future. I’m filled with gratitude to be able to take part in the incredible opportunities to celebrate Black history and explore the real, oftentimes untold history of our communities, and I am excited to see them happen across the country each year.
But despite our best intentions, are we rushing to get through February’s recognitions in order to move back to our “regularly scheduled programming”? Are we, in effect, discouraging more in-depth collaborations that would result in more racial, social, and economic justice victories?
It is in thinking about these moments in February— these rapidly-diminishing bits of history outside of business-as-usual—that I find myself searching for the places and intersections where we can deliberately connect Black History and the voices of African Americans in our communities with our everyday consciousness. How can we do this in a meaningful way that resonates beyond the end of the “designated” month?
If we want to create a broad and wide movement of people of color and allies across all identities, we need to build this work into the rest of the calendar year. By intentionally building spaces to explore our history— the often untold or glossed-over history of African Americans and all people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, and folks who generally get only a day or month in the “spotlight”— we can ensure that we will not continue to be subjected to compartmentalization and instead build alliances within our movement that are vital.
Just last week, I was among the attendees at a wonderful example of this kind of space: a reception hosted by students at Roosevelt High School in Portland who interviewed heroes for their acclaimed “Rough Writers” Freedom Fighters project. These young people developed powerful stories about justice-seeking community rebuilders, including survivors of persecution— all working for a just world as a lifetime pursuit. I was proud to see MRG grantees Margaret Butler of Portland Jobs with Justice and Rebecca Shine of Momentum Alliance among those honored. The event raised up and gathered together these local history makers, showing again, the power and diversity of those who’ve made Oregon a better, more equitable state for all of us.
Also last week, the Associated Students of the University of Oregon funded a wonderful collaboration, the Social Justice Real Justice conference, which was a phenomenal program featuring national social justice thinkers and activists like leading Black scholar Dr. Cornel West, farmworker organizer and labor icon Dolores Huerta, political hip hop duo Dead Prez, and American Indian environmentalist and economist Winona LaDuke.
What made this opportunity in Eugene even more meaningful were the many passionate organizers and activists from across the state who attended (including a number of our grantees), who connected across their work for justice, and shared their accomplishments and struggles with each other in workshops. MRG staff who attended were simply blown away by the level of engagement and analysis fostered within just a few days and came back excited to see how these alliances move us all forward.
For those of us who are ready to build social justice in our communities, events like these are essential. They provide us with both a chance to critically examine our history and build intentional spaces where we can take the time to foster the strong cultural understanding, appreciation, and solidarity that we need in our movements. And the inspiration we generate from being in these spaces makes it possible for us to move beyond the heavily-calendared sound bites and really engage with our history.
I celebrate the amazing wealth of opportunities and events curated by passionate, active, and courageous folks during Black History month. I also believe that we are ready to do more to gain the full benefit of working together for racial justice by incorporating these deeper reflections on our history and cross-issue struggles into our everyday work.
And for myself, I look forward to a February where I can finish out the month feeling full of hope for the unity and equity we seek all year long.