One of my favorite quotes from Michelle Obama is, “History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.” To me, this perfectly depicts the overall message that Black History Month is all about. Although we’re known to celebrate the awakening of groundhogs and the glamorization of love in the month of February, Black History Month is a reason for African Americans to take pride in their heritage and history. It’s a chance for them to have their voices highlighted among their peers in professional atmospheres without their views being suppressed or overlooked.
However, even in the midst of such a monumental month, it’s quite common for African Americans’ opinions to be overlooked when it comes to topics that regard the injustice of Black lives today. “One cannot discuss the African-American freedom struggle or the civil rights movement without paying attention to white allies who were working alongside Black people,” states Lionel Kimble, vice president for programs at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
In a 2016 speech, former President Barack Obama discussed his concerns about Black History Month. “It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America. It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go.” In other words, Black history should be treated as a big deal every month of the year, and there are many who would agree with this statement. When I asked various students about their thoughts on the matter of Black History Month, they were not hesitant to give me their honest answers.
What it means to me: Students tell all
I had the opportunity to interview four different students and allow their voices to be heard. Kristen Louder is a third-year student majoring in BFA dance. Samaria Williams is a second-year student majoring in theatre and minoring in global studies. Noesha Noel is a third-year student majoring in BFA dance and minoring in theatre and mathematics. Last but not least, Kayla Chandler is a third-year majoring in public relations.
Q: What is Black History Month to you?
Kristen Louder (KL): Black History Month is a time for gratitude and reflection. For me, it isn’t just a month–it’s every day I celebrate [it]. I celebrate our culture, our excellence and our strength.
Samaria Williams (SW): Black History Month is a time when people get to act as [if] they care about Black people. Posters, interviews, etc… for Black people all to be forgotten about by spring break, if not the month of February, which, may I add, is the shortest month of the year.
Noesha Noel (NN): Black History Month is an ongoing platform that highlights those who’ve paved the way and those currently preparing the way for the next generation.
Kayla Chandler (KC): BHM is just the best opportunity to celebrate Black excellence and to make Black voices heard. It means a lot to me because it’s [not] often that Black people get their voices heard and their stories shared.
Q: Does Black History Month have a different meaning for you today compared to the meaning you had in the past?
KL: Black History Month hasn’t really changed for me over the years besides me learning new leaders who have paved the way to be where I am today.
SW: Yes, when I was younger, I think I found it more inspiring; however, when you grow up and open your eyes to reality, it’s not enough. This energy and uplifting [of] Black people shouldn’t happen once a year—it should be kept all throughout the year.
NN: Initially, I was under the impression that Black History Month only included things concerning Blacks in America. The more I learned about my Haitian and Bahamian culture, the more I realized Black history is not just national but global.
KC: In the past, Black History Month just meant honoring all of the Black people who have paved the way, but nowadays, for me, it means making sure we acknowledge the accomplishments and triumphs of Black people in the present to pave way for the future.
Q: As a young Black woman, what is the message that you want to be highlighted this month–as well as every month–when it comes to the topic of Black history?
KL: As a young Black woman, I would want to highlight the power we have, the magic we [have] in society. We’re leaders, and to step into that power every day is important! OWN IT.
SW: I want Black excellence to be highlighted the most. We are shown any other time of the year as “thugs” or “angry Black women.” It’s nice to see Black people as doctors or lawyers or just anything we’ve always been told we couldn’t be. But with this highlight of Black excellence, it is so important that this same energy is kept all year long. One month of proper representation is not going to fix the years of negative portrayal in the media of Black people.
NN: We need to heal and conquer the generational trauma that has and continues to weigh us down and divide us in order to move forward as a people.
KC: For this month, I want people to understand [how] much of an impact that Black people have made in popular culture and that many popular trends were started or made popular by Black individuals. I’m just really happy that Black History Month is being more popularized and discussed on social media platforms and in this country. It fills me with pride to see Black people being so uplifted!
These four young women are just a few of the many powerful voices that deserve to be heard, today, next week and every single day of the year.