Charles Houston. Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Daniel Hale Williams. Mae Jemison. These are some of our country’s innovators, activists, and pioneers. Only…you may never have learned about them in school.
February is Black History Month. I remember learning about it in school. We usually talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black civil rights activists…Rosa Parks, maybe Malcolm X, too. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how little we actually learned about black history, and now I’m raising a daughter who is black. As an adoptive mom, this month means something different to me now. It’s another opportunity to help my daughter connect with her history.
You’ll hear the argument that we don’t need Black History Month, because it’s all our history. That would be nice, if it were true. Black history SHOULD be considered all of our history, but it’s not. Take the women of the new Hidden Figures movie, for example. Before the story became a Hollywood blockbuster, how may of you heard of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, or Mary Jackson? Exactly. Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
I visited my son’s school one career day and spoke with some of his classmates. Several of the girls wanted to be ballerinas, so I pulled up a picture of Misty Copeland on my phone. One of the little girls was shocked that Misty is black, like her. It made me think how much it would have meant to me as a child to hear about Hispanic and Latino pioneers, innovators, dancers, and authors: people who looked like me.
We will need Black History Month until our textbooks and curriculum recognize the achievements of black Americans alongside their white peers. We need schools to look past the few most famous black Americans and really delve into the plethora of stories that exist.
And until all that happens, I’ll be spending my Februarys really celebrating this month with my daughter, and helping her appreciate her roots. I want her to see herself and all her possibilities in the faces of people who look like her and who blazed the trail.