Importance of Black History Month

February is one of my favorite months because of the love that is shown. During this month, I personally get to show my love for Black History Month. Just in case you didn't know, Black History month was established in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson, but was originally known as National Negro History Week. This continued and eventually turned into Black History Month and was officially recognized by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976, when he asked the public to take the time to honor the all too often neglected accomplishments that African Americans achieved throughout history. Since then, every President has recognized February as Black History Month.

For me, Black History Month is not only a time where African Americans are celebrated for their accomplishments in a society that did not favor them (and in some ways still doesn’t), it is also a time that African Americans reminisce on the past oppression of our ancestors to always remember what they endured and to see how far we have come. It’s also a time to educate others about the things that aren't published in history books or on TV. To quote Morgan Freeman, "Black history is American history." Black ancestors were just as vital to the American story as all the others in American history that is often shared.

Black History is important to me because it reminds me of where I'm from. I also learn more and more as I explore all the different avenues in which there are to learn, from books to movies and documentaries dedicated to history. It helps me to be proud of this amazing ethnic group that God blessed me to be a part of, from the color of our skin, to the way have survived oppression and are able to be great no matter what we faced.

I understand what celebrating Black History Month means for me, and why it is important, but I wanted someone else's perspective and I instantly thought of asking Mrs. Tonya Jefferson Lynch. Just to introduce her: Mrs. Jefferson Lynch is the co-founder of JGirls Style Solutions, LLC, and JG Media Productions with her business partner and sister, Mimi Jefferson. She is the creator and producer of The Black Light Project, a humanities project utilizing photography and film to highlight & challenge the narratives of Black males in our communities. Mrs. Jefferson Lynch is also a co-host of Civil Talks on, a show dedicated to open dialog regarding social justice, and national & community issues. As well as having been a speech writer, ghostwriter, blog contributor, free-lance editor on numerous projects, and author of a customer service handbook, she is also a wife and mother of 8 children; ages ranging from 17 to 21 months. The list goes on with many other amazing things so she is a pretty important person.

Here are the questions I asked about what black history month means to her and why it is important:

HC: What does black history month mean to you personally?

Tonya Jefferson Lynch (TJL): As a Black woman, I feel that it is necessary to reserve an occasion to celebrate Black history because it is all of our history. For me it is an opportunity to move away from negative stereotypes and move towards acknowledging our ancestors who made amazing sacrifices to make our country and our world what it is. I also like to note that in a more balanced history curriculum, Black history would be told concurrently with what we consider American History. There is really no way to disentangle Black history from American History.

HC: Why do you feel it is important that African Americans celebrate their history?

TJL: If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are going. We have to know the path of our ancestors in order to make sense of where we are today and create direction for tomorrow. We have to not only celebrate our history, we have to have to a deep knowledge of it. Self-esteem is important to progress. Black people who know the beauty of their history, tend to be stronger more progressive individuals because they are aware of the path trod by their ancestors.

MD: Would you say that some people (both white and black) may not find Black History Month important?

TJL: I think that is an unfortunate thought pattern. That is usually derived from a false understanding of integration, education and history. To really tap into that mentality, you have to have that person think about the history that they have been taught. Largely, our history is taught as white men who “discovered” America and made this great constitution, fought gallantly and made America what it is. So that narrative automatically plays into building the self-esteem and the group-esteem of white people.

Natives are sprinkled in as kind people who shared their food. Black people are almost ignored in most history curriculums up until the Civil Rights Era and with that we get Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., maybe a Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jordan and such. Slavery, abolition--especially the role Blacks played in their own liberation, turn of the century, Black built schools & communities such as Black Wall Street, the inventions of Black Americans through time--these things are virtually ignored. Because they are ignored, you get a need to establish a month to highlight these contributions. And to the point of integration, I think people perceived it as “we are one and we don’t have to highlight anyone in particular.” No, the reality is we can be one and united but also aware of what other groups bring to the table.

HC: What can we as individuals and others who are ignorant as to why black history is important to see the importance of it?

TJL: First, learn why it is important to you. Before we educate we have to have knowledge. Know who the second, looking to the explanation above, simply ask: What were you taught in history? Be open to dialog and to listen. Most of these misunderstandings occur because something is lost in translation. People who are ignorant, don’t have the information to form a real opinion. It is much easier to lean on the opinion of others than to form your own through knowledge and research.

HC: What are some ways that we can go about exposing and educating the next generation on Black History?

TJL: We have to get knowledge and make Black history an everyday conversation. We have to be willing to commit our time and resources to building curriculums that teach BH in a way that is riveting and honest. This has to happen within families and within our educational institutions.

HC: Do you consider yourself someone who is proud to be African American? Why?

TJL: Absolutely. In looking over the journey of African women and men from their native land to the shores of what would become known to the world as America, I see the great strength of mind, body, and spirit of my ancestors. How else does a population endure the inhumanity and horrors of slavery, the unabashed injustice of Jim Crow, blatant discrimination and hidden discrimination without having a strong sense of self and connection to this world. Somehow that has remained in our DNA. Men fought in wars only to return home to fewer rights than the people they fought for. Women nursed babies while their own children were treated like dirt. Many taught themselves to read when doing so was a death sentence. We created inventions that were stolen; and worse, inventions we weren’t even allowed to use to save our own lives. Our history was purposely hidden, stolen, and trashed; and yet, what did we do, we established a culture of our own. Through music, dance, poetry, and spirituality - in the words of Maya Angelou - still we rise. How can I not be proud of that?

HC: Any other comments or opinions that you would like to add?

TJL: We are in an important time in America. A time where the old ideals of the past are revealing themselves as not dead as we once thought. But more than anything, we have a new generation who is willing to challenge those ideals at every turn. Black History is a powerful tool in shaping the true meaning of America. We cannot allow fear or ignorance to be the engine that drives us to our next destination in history. That can only lead to destruction. Black History is filled with love, honor, respect, courage and sacrifice: truly the principals a culturally aware and awake America must acknowledge.

HC: The responses that Mrs. Jefferson Lynch gave inspires me even more to learn our history, to teach others and fight for the injustices that we still face and to have our history seen not just as Black history, but American and even world history.  As I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate Black History Month more by celebrating and learning outside this one month that is set aside for us. I've learned that one of the African countries I descend from is Ghana, and that my ancestors were from the Ashanti tribe. Sometimes I wish I could know all my ancestors going all the way back to Africa, and learn the details of my personal family history. Even though that is quite impossible, I am satisfied with what I know and what I'm continuing to learning about black history. Happy Black History Month!

Photo Credit: Cover.