by Mauli Chopra
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.Maya Angelou
February honors African American history and empowers Black individuals who carry on the legacy of Black excellence within Western culture and beyond. Since 1976, February has been officially recognized in the U.S. as Black History Month. President Gerald Ford– the 38th U.S. president– first honored Black history in 1976. The United States of America is a country that was created on the land of Indigenous people and built by the hands of African American slaves. History is a tedious and bloody pathway that is slowly eradicating minorities within our society as the focus shifts to a whitewashed version chronicle.
The national theme for 2023’s Black History Month is Black Resistance. But what exactly does this entail? Oppression prevails when we do not fight back with unified resistance. Although violence is never the answer, it is a stepping stone toward exposing inequality. Many historical Black figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers were assassinated despite their methods of peaceful protesting, activist fieldwork, and speeches. To resist racism and hate is to honor the fallen ancestors who were stripped of the inalienable rights granted through Black resistance. There is a privilege in education and having to learn about stereotypes instead of experiencing them firsthand. Black people have earned their positions in places of power to represent the underrepresented and that is why it is important to focus equally on the triumphs as well as the obstacles.
Black history month is not just about remembering Black people of the past, it is also about honoring the present and protecting the future. The month is a time of celebration of obstacles overcome and acknowledging those that still exist today. Clarity often makes white Americans uncomfortable, but democracy has extended its hand to all Americans and it is indifferent to the color of your skin. Racial injustice is still evident in 2023 and plays a role in things such as socioeconomic disparities, biased educational curricula, nonexistent bodily autonomy, police brutality, and limited representation in places of power; we silence a minority that makes up the majority of American history. Recently, state powers have failed to protect minorities as critical race theory, AP African American Studies, natural Black hair in professional workspaces, and much more pertaining to the mere existence of Black individuals have been deemed controversial and banned.
Black resistance has always been controversial and was even illegal during the early stages of American history but that did not eradicate the resistance– instead it fueled it. The Black Lives Matter movement is an extension of the Civil Rights Movement, both highly controversial at the beginning of their development. Recent times have showcased the true division within our country that represents values of hate instead of equity. The simplest of life’s pleasures have been denied Black people for too long. Rest, peace, boldness, laughter, knowledge, and more were luxuries during the Jim Crow and Reconstruction eras. In the 21st century, minorities still struggle to find solace and their place in a society that continues to strip them of simple things. Black history is crucial and must be seen and heard in current times because there is still a struggle for racial justice.
It can be exhausting and traumatizing for minorities to witness and experience the systemic racism that exists within this country. Protesting and amplifying Black organizations can go a long way but not far enough without the majority being aware of the minority as a group equal to them. It is not enough to dedicate a month to the complex history of African-Americans– we must listen, engage, support, speak up, and most important vote.
We must as a society be uncomfortable so that no one feels comfortable in the presence of the horrific history of America, because when we feel comfortable, history tends to repeat itself. Black history is not separate from American history. Both coexist as one and as two different fragments of the same era. As we acknowledge the racial terrorism that took place, we must not only honor the victims but learn the names of those who inflicted the pain upon others. Separating history into black and white can often create the illusion that Black history is not American history. Black rights have always created a division between Americans but this is not something to be argued over. It is imperative to learn history from an unbiased and factual standpoint and work toward a future that is not history repeating itself.
Black History Month first began as Negro History Week in 1926, but even long before that there have been celebratory honors by activists and protestors who have shone a light on Black power and unity. There have always been celebrations, whether they were, by necessity, private and silent or bold and public.
Black history is not just found in America, it is a global chronicle. February also honors Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two abolitionist figures prominent in the process of granting inalienable rights to African American slaves.
Black history will continue to be made. The work of the Civil Rights Movement and Black resistance still has a long way to go before it has achieved the proper reparations of the past. As Black individuals continue to make history, the rest of us must work toward preserving and celebrating the triumphs while still being mindful of the barriers.
There are many modern figures we can uplift and celebrate this month and all year round. Here is a brief list of Black athletes, musicians, and authors you can support. Although this list cannot begin to mention every name that deserves recognition, I have compiled these lists based on influential figures who have gone above and beyond in being role models for the upcoming generations of people of color. Every day we find ourselves enjoying the pleasure of Black creation but often neglect the minority in times of need.
February is Black History Month and its celebration is extraordinary, but Black history does not stop after February and neither should the celebration.
- Jordan Greenway (NHL)
- Misty Copeland (Ballet Dancer)
- Brittney Griner (WNBA)
- LeBron Raymone “Bronny” James Jr (Basketball Player)
- Patrick Mahomes (NFL)
- Venus Williams (Tennis)
- Candace Parker (WNBA)
- Simone Manuel (Swim)
- Perry Baker (Men’s Rugby)
- Naya Tapper (Women’s Rugby)
- Lauryn Hill (Rapper)
- Tupac Shakur (Rapper)
- Beyoncé (R&B, Pop)
- Montell Fish (R&B/Soul)
- SZA (R&B/Soul)
- Kendrick Lamar (Rapper)
- Megan Thee Stallion (Rapper)
- Labrinth (Pop)
- Frank Ocean (Neo Soul)
- Steve Lacy (Alternative, Indie)
- Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye)
- Octavia E. Butler (Kindred)
- Alice Walker (The Color Purple)
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (The Thing Around Your Neck)
- Maya Angelou (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings)
- Colson Whitehead (The Nickle Boys)
- Malcolm X (Autobiographies, Speeches)
- Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa (Efuru)
- Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me)
- Charmaine Wilkerson (Black Cake)
- Viola Davis (The Woman King, 2022)
- Zendaya Coleman (Malcolm & Marie, 2021)
- Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, 2016)
- Angela Bassett (Soul, 2020)
- Kerry Washington (American Son, 2019)
- Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, 2018)
- Anthony Mackie (The Banker, 2020)
- Justice Smith (Pokémon Detective Pikachu, 2019)
- Samuel L. Jackson (The Hitman’s Bodyguard, 2017)
- Jordan Fisher (Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, 2022)
Black Organizations to Support
- Black Lives Matter (https://blacklivesmatter.com/)
- Black Women for Wellness (https://bwwla.org/)
- Center for Black Equity (https://centerforblackequity.org/)
- The National Bar Association (https://nationalbar.org/)
- Congressional Black Caucus PAC (https://www.cbcpac.org/)
- NAACP (https://naacp.org/)
- ACLU Foundation (https://action.aclu.org/content/giving-american-civil-liberties-union-and-american-civil-liberties-union-foundation-what)
- National Black Justice Coalition (https://nbjc.org/)
- Black Male Voter Project (https://blackmalevoterproject.org/)
- African American Planning Commission (AAPC) (https://aapci.org/)