Reflections on Black History Month
Black history is American history – but too often, Black voices have been left out of the conversation. In recognition of Black History Month, Mirna Valerio – bestselling author, speaker, ultramarathon runner and L.L.Bean Ambassador – wrote this essay reflecting on the month’s past, and imagining a future that paints a fuller, more inclusive picture of American history.
In my adulthood, as a teacher and equity and inclusion practitioner, I balked at the notion of being asked to lead celebrations of Black History Month. Why? Because for far too long it seemed like an empty endeavor – we would repeat the beautiful, prescient utterances of Dr. Martin Luther King, often without context and quickly highlight a handful of people, people who were obvious and important beacons in our collective past. But then, we would also gloss over or exclude our current history / current beacons, who folks in our community could look up to as contemporaries. I participated in this model too. I’d get up and speak, have some talented students perform deeply felt music, dance, and poetry, we’d close with a slideshow, and then, bam – Black History Month was over in a day.
But what if we changed the protocol? What if Black History wasn’t distilled into only one month? There is much more to us than can be studied in one month. What if we actually included the contributions and history (the painful, the joyful, and the quotidian) into every aspect of our historical learning? It would not only pave the way not just for appreciating Black History as just a part of the country’s history, but give people a fuller understanding of our current history. This is also true of Native American, Asian-American, and Latinx histories as well. What are traditionally seen as periodic contributions, are vital, integral, and interwoven aspects of the entirety of American history.
I have hope, though.
I have hope that in this most recent iteration of racial strife and reckoning, that we will really see, and know intimately, the particulars of Black History in the United States. It is a multi-faceted, multidimensional, multiethnic spectrum of people, our accomplishments, our experiences, both shared and divergent, our pain and trauma, but also, our joys.
I believe that there can be a Black History Month that brings everything and everyone into the fold, so that we can see, appreciate, and know a fuller picture of America. When we know our full history, we can understand better where we are today, and all the possibilities of an incredible future.
Mirna Valeriois the author of the best-selling book A Beautiful Work in Progress, and a sought-after speaker who has focused her life on spreading health awareness, promoting diversity and inspiring and uplifting others to LIVE LARGE and be in charge of their own happiness. See and hear more of Mirna’s story in the short film “Running Through Barriers,” visit her website themirnavator.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.