As I walked into the Johnson and Hardwick cafeteria, I noticed something astonishing. There were several posters profiling African Americans that have made a difference in history. I was astonished for the fact that these individuals were not the usual well-known, although they included, Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. The posters had people such as Matthew Henson, Dr. Charles Drew, Booker T. Washington, Bayard Rustin, and Granville T. Woods.
They even had present-day distinguished professor, Dr. Cornell West. The cafeteria had the right idea in profiling these lesser-known individuals that have left huge marks on our everyday lives. These are the individuals that make this month Black History Month.
To many, Black History Month’s purpose is a mystery. Maybe the term ‘Black History Month’ is a misnomer in itself that breeds confusion and brands the month “touchy,” “racial,” or “ethnically-exclusive,” but Black History Month is none of the above. Black history is not solely for people of color to partake in. Black history is American history and aims to acknowledge the inventions, innovations and contributions that African Americans have made to this country. It is a month to reflect, learn, educate, appreciate and progress. It is a time to recognize the generations of accomplishment and progression of a people. Black History Month is not isolated from the rest of our American history; it is an incorporation of it, and that is exactly how it should be treated.
February was chosen as the month to do this because it included both the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass – two influential people who progressed civil rights and helped shape the future of African Americans in this country.
There are individuals who continue going nameless but are crucial to the present-day framework of our nation and personal lives.
Little does anyone know that a lot of our daily conveniences were invented or improved by a person of color. The refrigerator was invented by Thomas Elkins and John Standard. Henry Sampson invented the cellular phone. Garrett Augustus Morgan invented the traffic light. George Washington Carver invented all the present-day uses that we have for the peanut. The first successful open-heart surgery was performed by Daniel Hale Williams. Recognized figures in Black History Month usually go no further than Dr. King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, yet all these people are neglected.
No one hears of Benjamin Banneker, the self-educated scientist, astronomer, writer, antislavery publicist, and surveyor of our nation’s capital and inventor of the clock. Nor do we hear about abolitionists Sojourner Truth and writers Phyllis Wheatley and W.E.B. DuBois. Many could not speak on the impact that playwright Lorraine Hansberry had during her time. Her plays displayed the fierce oppression African Americans had to battle during that time. And there is Madame C.J. Walker, the first African American female millionaire abolitionist. There are countless other leaders that go unrecognized when their accomplishments are so great and directly shaped the present state of our nation. Their tireless work brought about political reform and created opportunity for people of color.
This month should be taken for what is was intended. Everyone, no matter what race, age, creed or gender should take part in Black History Month, because it does affect their life one way or the other. Whether it goes from the simple tasks of talking on that cell phone, stopping at a red light or spreading that peanut butter on the slice of bread taken from the refrigerator, or the more daunting tasks of working to end institutionalized racism, Black history is all around us and every individual that is part of it should be recognized.
Dashira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.