Year after year, I pause as I step into February, as I begin to feel the pressure of Black History Month fall around my shoulders.
The calls started in late January and since then I’ve received more than a dozen invitations to speak, to present, to write – far more requests than I receive any other time of year. I’m being asked daily, “Are you available? Could you come talk? Could you speak to? Could you write for?” And I know my experience isn’t unique. Ask any Black executive director, CEO, or community leader and their experience is likely to be the same.
Squeezing Black History into a Month
As I consider these calls and emails to share my history, to cram all things African American into a 15- or 30- or even 60-minute speech, I try to be reasonable but I’m often stumped.
How can I possibly capture, in a single speech, the richness of an entire people’s history, the power and inspiration of overcoming, the significance of an African American civil rights movement within larger national and worldwide movements for human dignity and justice?
How do I talk about the college students who risked their schooling to sit in at lunch counters, or the workers who boycotted their main transportation and challenged injustice, or those who stood firm and faithful while being beaten by police?
The reality is that I can’t. There is nothing I can say or do or write in a single month that will capture the power of a people who continue to risk their lives to overcome the dismissal of Black culture, Black dignity, Black resilience and Black power.
Don’t get me wrong – I am a supporter of teaching Black history and I understand the reasons why Black History Month exists, the way it fills a yawning void in mainstream education on the history and culture of Black Americans. But I am acutely aware of the way that February serves as a token, that attention is heaped on Black history and culture for 28 days and then it’s back to regularly scheduled – and all too often exclusively white – programming.
Black All Year
My frustration with this dynamic has led me to coin a somewhat cynical response to those seeking to schedule me in February: I’m booked up for February, but I hope you’ll call me again in one of the eleven other months, because I’m Black all year!
If you call and get such a response, know that it’s not intended in anger, but to encourage and promote the notion that we are each more than a month. That all year long, each and every month, we can actively challenge the racism, misogyny, abelism, and homophobia that has dismissed too many of us from fair representation in history’s pages – and from reaching our full potential in the present.
All Year Long, All Together
Me, my history, and my culture are so much more than a single month. And the same can be said for Latino history, Native history, Asian history, LGBTQ history, and the history of every other community who has their culture crammed into a month – if recognized at all. Our individual and shared histories are too broad, too deep, too important, and too intertwined to reduced, divided, parsed out, then set aside.
But we can change this dynamic, embrace our whole selves, and demand our histories be recognized, included, and celebrated each and every day. There is tremendous power in interweaving and highlighting America’s rich, diverse and blended history – all of us, all year long, all together. I’m eagerly embracing that power – will you?