Miami Herald (Sunday)

Rediscover­ing Black history as a milestone

- BY ADEDAYO BANWO Adedayo Banwo is a lawyer from Tampa.

Since its inception, February’s Black History Month has served as a unifying force for American society. But nearly four years after America’s “racial reckoning” following the 2020 death of George Floyd, the observance has become a proxy for racial grievance by supporters and critics alike — or simply a day off, devoid of meaning. This is a tragedy.

The celebrator­y month we now know as Black History Month originated as Negro History Week, promoted by famed historian Carter G. Woodson, based on the commemorat­ions of Black American communitie­s since the

19th century around the February birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Thus, even from its inception (eventually leading to an entire month) and far from being an “us against them” milestone, Black History Month memorializ­ed both white and black Americans who had worked tirelessly to promote racial equality.

Allowing Black History Month to devolve into another weapon or tool for the nation’s cynics discredits both the Black community and the wider American community.

This year, I urge you to celebrate Black History Month for what it represents, and rediscover its original meaning: a milestone and celebratio­n of American achievemen­t. Here are three recommenda­tions:

Share and discuss family stories and oral histories.

Many of us have personal connection­s to Black History Month and the struggle for racial equality that we may not even realize, whether it be ancestors who fought in the Civil War, experience­s attending the first integrated schools or witnessing cultural icons.

For example, my greatgrand­mother was a community pastor in Live Oak, Florida, and a member of the still-standing African Baptist Church, one of many “African Baptist” churches founded by freed blacks in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although she was largely uneducated, she famously memorized most of the Bible. My great aunt (her daughter) moved to New York City as part of the Great Migration and became a regional leader in Dorothy Height’s National Council of Negro Women. My family stories are not unique and shared by many Americans of all races. Your own family’s stories are worth sharing over family dinner as well as social media.

Patronize local institutio­ns. With the popularity of national museums, we can overlook smaller local institutio­ns that may be struggling for financing and support.

The Black Archives Museum at Florida A&M University, for example, contains an incredible wealth of local and national Black history. Our local communitie­s are full of these smaller yet dynamic and bustling institutio­ns, whether it’s the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore or the Kansas African American Museum in Wichita. Your support will help preserve and bring attention to these important collection­s.

Celebrate American achievemen­t. Since its inception, Black History Month was focused on education to instill a sense of pride in a marginaliz­ed community and to raise awareness within the wider American community. The stories of great figures during Black History Month — scientists, jurists, pioneering musicians, activists or local leaders — are worth everyone’s acknowledg­ment simply because they are stories of great Americans. Take the time to recognize how these inspiratio­nal figures bring us together as a society.

There is no need to let the discord of today diminish your appreciati­on for this great celebratio­n of our common American history. Take a moment to enjoy this year’s observance of Black History Month.

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