It’s a question that doesn’t have one specific answer. If you ask ten people, you’ll probably get ten different responses. To me, Black History Month is a starting point for learning about Black history in America. Before I talk about that, I want to go back to when I first started learning about Black history.
Growing up in Petaluma, CA in the 80s as a little Black kid was interesting. I can say that in hindsight, with the benefit of age and experience. I say hindsight, because as a kid I had no real frame of reference at that time. I was just a kid. I did kid stuff. I played with other kids, I went to school, I watched movies, and I rode my bike. I didn’t feel any different than any other kid in my neighborhood despite being the only Black kid. A few years later there would be a couple more Black kids that would come to my school. Up until then I was the only one in the entire school from kindergarten to sixth grade. The main point is, I hadn’t felt othered yet. I hadn’t been singled out. That is until we started celebrating Black History Month at school. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Looking back, I welcome the fact that we started recognizing Black history at my school. At that time, it was just a weird feeling to have all eyes on you when talking about Black history in a majority white environment. I remember the assignment that was given to all the students at the school. We were to finish the statement in the vein of Martin Luther King, “I have a dream that…..”. My dream was to one day become the first Black president of the United States. No, I’m not resentful of Barack Obama for taking away my dream. I don’t remember what any other student’s dream was, but I’m sure it paled in comparison to my dream of being the leader of the free world.
I was recognized at school for my dream at an assembly. My dream was even published in the local paper. Years later, my best friend, who was white, showed me in a journal that he kept at that time that his goal was to help me become the first Black president. I remember being hit with all the feels that my friend wanted to share in my dream. I look back at that period with nostalgia and gratefulness that I generally didn’t feel othered growing up. There would be instances later that would happen where I did experience racism and othering. But I give credit to my mother for constantly instilling in me that I could do anything, if I put my mind to it. At that time, I didn’t know why she would always say that. Now being older and wiser, I know she was preparing me for the inevitability of when my confidence in myself would be tested. She prepared me for the times people would question my ability or intelligence. She prepared me for situations where I would be underestimated because of the color of my skin. It helped me to be confident in myself enough to not be discouraged by others’ perception of me. I knew what I was and if you couldn’t see that, then something must be wrong with you.
Now back to Black History Month. I believe Black History Month is like a set of training wheels for learning about Black history. Why? Because Black history is American history. The number of things I learn and continue to learn about Black peoples’ contribution to this country is amazing. Every time I learn something new, the question always rings in my head, “Why didn’t I learn this in school?” In school, we learn just a snippet of the contributions and achievements that Black people have contributed to this country. We focus on the “Mount Rushmore” of historical black figures. When there are countless other people and events that have shaped our country and culture.
Black history is also not a finished product. Even in 2024 there are still firsts to be had and mountaintops to reach. Black culture has influenced the entire world. Our strength and struggle has given a blueprint of how to strive and succeed through adversity. So maybe I won’t be the first Black president, but it doesn’t mean dream destroyed, it just means dream achieved. I hope with this Black History Month we can start to see the value in not just learning about Black history once a year, but year-round. That’s why at MCFL we’re focusing on Celebrating Black History & Culture through the strength in striving of Black people in America. We encourage you to take part in the events offered by the County this month. We also hope you’re inspired to continue beyond February and learn about Black history all year.
Author - Etienne Douglas, Library Technology Program Coordinator