We now find ourselves at the time of the year where many people find themselves in one of two mindsets. There are the “do we even need black history month?” thinkers and the “black history should be more than just one month!” believers. Of course some people hold to an entirely different mindset than these two opinions.
But, for the purposes of our discussion, I will focus primarily on these two because they represent the extreme ends of this debate. Where you fall between these two opinions reveals more than you may realize about your character, your opinion of others and your beliefs.
I can clearly recall being a high school student listening intently to the Radio One broadcast of the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday tribute. The radio tribute was an audio walk-through of the King-era civil rights struggle. Even as a teenager, I was moved to tears by the vivid descriptions of the horrific events and miraculous accomplishments.
Every year, I sat and soaked in the entire 4 hour tribute. Some years, my mom listened with me, other years I sat by myself. I knew then, that I had to be a part of the solution – I would absolutely do all that I could to end bigotry and the hatred that stemmed from racism, classicism, sexism and every other “ism” that causes people to intentionally separate themselves from others.
It is safe to say that I entered a different consciousness by the time I could sit and understand all that was shared during the MLK radio tribute. The awareness that I gained changed the way I listened in school, read through homework assignments and participated in class discussions.
When I became aware of the contributions of Africans, African-Americans and blacks from around the world, history (U.S. & European), chemistry, biology, literature and mathematics were not the same. I used class discussions as opportunities to “enlighten” my Driver’s Education classmates about how the traffic light was influenced by a black inventor named Garret Morgan.
I eagerly shared how Hippocrates and Pythagoras were influenced by Imhotep and early cultural advancements in an ancient city called Kemet, the area we now know as Africa.
I wondered how so much of my history was hidden from me. But, the more I read the more I realized that my history was never hidden, it was simply recorded in a book and placed on a shelf. The knowledge of my past fueled my desire to be more than I could see around me.
I knew that I descended from a long history of kings, rulers, scientists and warriors. I knew that I had potential, but I didn’t know how to turn my potential energy into a positive force. I learned to channel my energy while listening to the Radio One tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I was also guided by reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Souls of Black Folk (W.E.B. Du Bois), the biographies of Marcus Garvey and Carter G. Woodson. I consumed poetry and short stories by Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Countee Cullen, Paul Laurence Dunbar and other authors.
Within my own mind and heart, I created a version of the world that integrated the influences from other cultures, races and civilizations. I longed to know my value and worth as it related to the rest of the world culture. When I sat in the “College Prep” and “Advanced” high school courses, I was often the only black student in a class of 20, or, maybe there were two - three black students.
Whenever possible, I focused my projects and reports on the black culture, black accomplishments and black pioneers. I did not wait until February. I did not wait for the world to give me an approval nod. I did not wait for the teacher to give me a Black History month assignment.
As a high school student, I put my energy into the things that empowered me. If I had to wait for someone else, I have no idea where my help would have come from or IF it would have ever arrived.
Over twenty-five years after my high school graduation, I see many young people (especially young black males) struggling with an identity crisis similar to what I experienced. Who will help our young people uncover the full history of our world? Learning key aspects of my history was empowering and enlightening.
I pray that today’s young people will be guided to an enlightened awareness. We can all agree that our young people need help. Where will their help come from? Be young! Be intelligent!
Columnist Chris Dinkins is an educator and native South Carolinian. His viewpoint is based on personal, classroom and volunteer experiences. Send questions and comments about youth related issues to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.