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What Are Students Doing for Black History Month?

“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.” These are the words of Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the ‘Father of Black History’ and the second African American to earn a PhD from Harvard. Woodson created and announced the first ‘Negro History Week’ in 1926 through what is now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). Today, in the USA, the celebration lasts the whole of February and is known as African American History Month or Black History Month. Other countries observe their own Black History Month at different times of the year. But the unique position of African Americans among the country’s complex histories of slavery and segregation, and the widely heard voices of African Americans in US arts, media, and academia, make African American History Month a focal point around the world. Here's what students are doing for Black History Month.

Feb 26, 2021
  • Education
What Are Students Doing for Black History Month?

Woodson created and announced the first ‘Negro History Week’ in 1926 through what is now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). Today, in the USA, the celebration lasts the whole of February and is known as African American History Month or Black History Month.

Other countries observe their own Black History Month at different times of the year. But the unique position of African Americans among the country’s complex histories of slavery and segregation, and the widely heard voices of African Americans in US arts, media, and academia, make African American History Month a focal point around the world. Here's what students are doing for Black History Month.

Celebrating and reflecting

In the US, Black History Month is a chance to celebrate Black and African American cultures and contributions to society -- both of which have been suppressed in official and unofficial histories and discussions. It is a time to remember, mourn, and celebrate those who have tragically experienced -- or continue to experience -- oppression, inequality, or discrimination.

Woodson believed it was vital for young African-Americans to understand and be proud of their heritage. “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history," he said.

Before the USA country can move past racial harm, there needs to be “truth, then accountability and then maybe reconciliation," said Dionne Grayman, who helps schools and teachers to have difficult conversations about race.

Not understanding the history of race and racism in the USA, and tendencies to overlook the worst aspects of racist violence, have led to resentment toward civil rights activism, says Dan Hirschman, an assistant professor of sociology at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Black History Month is also a chance to look at today's realities through the context of what has come before, and to imagine and develop better futures. A big part of that is representation: the voices that are heard and the way knowledge is framed and shared.

LaGarrett J. King, an associate professor of social studies education at the University of Missouri and founding director of the CARTER Center for K-12 Black History Education, praises educators who use Black History Month to “disrupt the official narrative” on race.

Through real-life sites and documents. Black History Month uses these sources and art forms to highlight the contribution of African Americans and the integral part Black communities have played in developing US history and culture. The celebration is an opportunity to showcase creative and political figures who have been overlooked and to advocate for a more inclusive American history.

You can find lots of ideas for Black History Month events on- and off-campus and through pedagogy resource, such as WeAreTeachers. Throughout the month there is a particular focus on arts, culture, and learning about African American history through real-life sites and documents.

“When I was younger… not a lot of the books that I was reading were relevant to my immediate life, to my immediate world,” says Lupita Nyong'o, Hollywood actress from 12 Years a Slave among many other films and best-selling author. “My geography books were British. My history books were British. And I realized, ‘You know what? Books don’t have to be about white people. They can actually represent all people.’”

This year’s Black History Month

Each year, Black History Month adopts a new theme. Last year, a big election year in the USA, it was ‘African Americans and the vote’ and this year it is "The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity," chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

Many institutions, including the ASAALH and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, offer digital programs to help people celebrate the month at home amid the pandemic. Impetus for this year’s event has been bolstered by the increasing awareness and popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement.

African American History Month campus events

Universities are uniquely equipped to counter the Eurocentric hegemony prevalent in some places in society. One way universities can do this is to have history lessons that don’t feel like history lessons.

For example, Kent State University has hosted multiple events on most days, including talks ‘Why Pan Africanism is Important to the #BlackLivesMatter movement’, ‘Honoring Black History Month’, and a ‘Black Maternal Health Panel’. Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has held virtual talks on topics such as ‘Courageous Conversations’, Black LGBTQ activism in Brazil, Black arts, Black feminism, and a career fair to help students showcase their dynamic skills. (And it is far from just the USA which celebrates Black History Month, but not all nations celebrate it at the same time. For example, the United Kingdom celebrates the month in October, with many British universities putting on several events to mark the month then.)

So there are many different ways students can learn about and celebrate the great achievements and culture of Black people, today and throughout history. And just because Black History Month is coming to an end, it in no way means advocacy and remembrance should end. To advance racial justice, students can read and watch books and films on Black history, participate in societies, discuss issues with friends, join political movements and parties, and much more! Also, European nations celebrate the month in October, with many universities across the continent putting on events similar to the ones described here.

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