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Columbia Inspired

Why Black History Month?

Why is there a Black History Month? I have heard this question asked many times. The inquiry itself is proof that there is an education to be had. As a teenager in high school, history class was a challenge for me. In class, there were two pages on slavery and one page on Malcolm, Martin, and of course, Rosa Parks. After that, we were pretty much done with the history of African Americans in this country. The reason the class was challenging was due to me being one of many black children in Des, Moines, Iowa (my hometown) who attended a summer program called The Institute. The Institute provided an outstanding education in the history of people who looked like me, with information that went beyond our slavery story.

Yes, we learned the hard truths about slavery and colonialism, the parts often skimmed over in history class because, honestly, the actual details are gruesome and cruel. However, we also learned of the significant contributions that African Americans made to this country beyond Malcolm, Martin, and peanut butter. Big ups to George Washington Carver, though! Peanut butter is my jam! Just kidding, George Washington Carver did not actually invent peanut butter, contrary to popular belief. However, Carver was a great inventor, and you can read more about how he influenced the agricultural industry here.

The Institute highlighted Africa's beautiful continent and cultures, including the amazingly varied people who lived there. We learned that there is no one blueprint of who black people are, much like there isn't one for any culture. Being taught to take pride in where I have been, being determined in where I am going, and being confident enough to be myself, is what The Institute instilled in me as a beautiful black woman. That last part has taken many years for me to fully embrace.

After knowing these things, you can see how difficult it was to sit through a class where there are pages and pages of history being taught; yet, my story whittled down to three (ok, maybe four), effectively diminishing the contributions of all African Americans. Can anyone's history be summed up in just three to four pages?

Black History Month is an opportunity for communities to celebrate contributions, understand the truth about our nation's history, and emphasize that Black history is American history. When American history is taught, all aspects of the "American" story should be considered. That also includes the many other cultures and ethnicities that have helped to shape America.

What would happen if you had a community of people who understood that their place in this world is essential? What if you had a community of people who understood how their past had shaped them but not necessarily defined or limited them? What if you had a community of people who respected their neighbor's culture and experience without judgment but with a willingness to listen, even if it was uncomfortable? What if there was a community of people willing to protect others from injustice and work together to find balance in systems that are unbalanced and designed to exclude many and benefit only a few? There is an opportunity to learn from the past, to examine the wins and the utter failures. These are some things that we are tasked to do in America, as a whole, and in each and every community in which we live. In Columbia, the goal is to make our existence equally beneficial to all. The very creation of Columbia, Maryland, was an experiment to find the answers to these questions. Developer James W. Rouse dreamed of creating a community open to everyone, and it is truly the foundation for this experiment.

So, my answer to the question, "Why is there a Black History Month?" is to respond with my own, "Why not"?   

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