The fact that Black History Month originated out of the efforts of African-American historian Carter G. Woodson bears repeating each year at this time so that everyone can recognize at core the results that come from the efforts that are focused on advancing the interests of Black people.
The fact that it bears repeating each year at this time is not just for the purpose of recognizing Woodson for his initiative. It means something is missing from our shared knowledge because there are still people who grumble that “they” gave us the shortest month of the year to celebrate Black history.
It has been noted that Woodson chose a week in February beginning in 1926 in recognition of two meaningful dates as they reflect on the advancement of African-Americans – Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass on February 14.
What started as Negro History Week has evolved into Black History Month and is now referred to by some as African History Month, as well as African Liberation Month.
By whatever reference, this is the time during which we recognize and reflect on the achievements and aspirations of African peoples and our collective past.
We have before us a month arrayed with events and presentations, which began this year with Toronto’s CN Tower lit with red, green and black, in recognition of the 20th anniversary of official Black History Month celebrations across Canada.
While schoolchildren will be reading stories and creating art to participate, it is well to remember that the passion many in Black communities share for formal education reaches back to a time when Africans held in chattel slavery in the so-called New World could be punished with death for having the skill of reading and writing the language of slaveholders, be it English, French, Spanish or Portuguese.
Yet, we remain concerned that the quality of education being transmitted to Black students leaves much to be desired.
During the coming weeks, children in public schools across the Greater Toronto Area will receive a small view into the presence and contributions of African descended peoples in the Western world. They will likely receive information on any number of important inventions by Black people.
They will no doubt explore the famous words by revered civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke at the March on Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963 about having a dream.
Perhaps, they will even be allowed the information that it was an anti-racism speech and not just a speech about “hope and change”.
Taking part in Black History Month should be an education for everyone, but it has to have particular meaning for our African Canadian students since it is the only time that lessons would be intentionally designed to include their history.
The overwhelming emphasis in all areas of study that excludes the foundational impact of the presence of African people in this part of the world cannot nor should it be limited to one month each year.
We believe that systematic exclusion has a long-term negative impact on Black students. The failure rate and non-completion of high school among Black students stand as evidence of this continued omission.
Therefore, while we celebrate, those who are engaged in advancing the interests of Black communities must continue to advance the cause of meaningful education for Black students.
All are welcome to engage and participate during February. The more we all learn and understand about Black contributions and presence, the better it will be for fostering understanding across all of society. Yet, the upcoming generation must be the priority.