While I spend time at southern cookouts and play games with my siblings to celebrate Black historical figures, every February reminds me of the marches I never had to attend, and the speeches and legislation that award me the privilege to vote and go to a university like Temple.
Black History Month allows me to imagine a better future and continue the work my heroes left behind through writing columns and essays that argue for change.
The African American experience from the past and present has shaped who I am today and who I want to be in the future. This month is a time for me to reflect on the people who cleared a path for my generation. Because of their sacrifices, it’s my goal to go above and beyond in college, my career and passion projects.
Throughout the month, there are two men who I reflect on the most: Muhammad Ali, a boxer and social activist, and Fred Hampton, an activist, leader and deputy chairman of the Black Panther Party.
When I was 15, I learned about Ali through a video that featured his early winning streak. His skill and personality left me captivated, and his decision not to fight in the Vietnam War showed his true spirit. While some considered him unpatriotic, his refusal to back down when he could’ve been killed represents the courage I try to live by.
I honor Ali by speaking out against injustice and standing up for what’s right, even though others may think it’s wrong. Choosing to standby silently doesn’t make injustice go away, it will only make things worse.
I’ve used this courage to defend classmates, especially people of color. When I was 17, my classmates called a girl a terrorist while pointing at her hijab. The comments made my stomach turn because I knew how it felt to be bullied, and I didn’t want anyone to feel that pain.
I stood up and called out their intolerance because no matter how many people laughed, it was wrong. The rest of the bus disagreed, but because of Ali, fear didn’t silence me.
Hampton is another Black man who inspires me because he used his speeches to bring people together and promote equality.
I learned about Hampton last year when I was 18 when my teacher referenced him during class. She was baffled that I didn’t know who he was, so I decided to research his work and learn about his accomplishments. It was then that my respect for him was born and it has grown ever since.
By the time Hampton was 21, he was providing free meals and establishing health clinics. He also created the Rainbow Coalition, an organization dedicated to improving the economic conditions of Black communities across the United States.
He represents the strong work ethic and passion I try to put in my assignments, poetry and work for The Temple News.
There were times in grade school when I felt intimidated by my classmates – they achieved nothing but perfect scores while my grades weren’t as good. Their consistency made me stand out, as if I didn’t belong. Every week came with a challenge, and I felt like I was falling behind. I considered dropping those classes altogether.
But, when I remembered what Hampton did, how he used his work ethic to do so much at such a young age, I realized my own potential. I knew I needed to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove I belonged and could go beyond what was expected.
Black History Month encourages me to reflect on my heroes, and with this comes the inspiration to better myself and epitomize the worth they saw in the African American community.
When I hear their stories and remember their purpose, I’m inspired to take the lessons they left behind and finish what they started. I continue to expose societal problems through journalism and poetry, telling stories that can change how people think.
While these two heroes are only a small glimpse of those who make Black History Month important, they are who I cherish the most. I will always reflect on the work these heroes have accomplished and find inspiration in their greatest qualities.