This year's Black History Month has come with a massive global awakening. The theme for this year, "Time For Change; Actions Not Words" explicitly captures one of the core pillars that led to the birth of this movement by the founding fathers.
Decades ago, it wasn't just about educating people on black history. Black history month was a drive for enforcement, and it hinged on actions, not words. The struggle for inclusion, equality, recognition, the establishment of identity, and its acceptance into the mainstream, and an end to discrimination and racism was not surreal. Neither was it easy. It was tough.
Today, much of that struggle has been largely won. It is why we can proudly celebrate black history, our cultural heritage, and the iconic figures that have contributed immensely to our history.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we truly aim to preserve and perpetuate the good deeds already done.
While many of us are getting caught up in the events and activities scheduled for the month, it's easy to forget that most people have not fully understood what Black History Month really is.
Black History Month is celebrated every February in the US. It all began with a man, Carter G. Woodson (Born in Virginia, 1875-1950), known as the "Father of Black History".
WHAT IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH?
The origin of Black History Month dates back to the early 20th century, when Carter G. Woodson (PhD), a History scholar from Harvard University, observed that the level of acknowledgement meted out to the achievements of people of color — specifically black people — was close to zero.
At 39 years old — the son of a former slave, he was dissatisfied with this reality as well as other issues of racism facing black folk. Alongside his colleagues, he established the Association For The Study of Negro Life And History (ASNLH) in 1915. The mission of the organisation was to "promote research, preserve, interpret, and to disseminate information about black life, history and culture to the global community."
In 1916, he founded the journal Negro History.
In February 1926, he organised a movement known widely as African-American History Week, also known as Negro History Week. February was chosen because it was the birth month of Abraham Lincoln (Feb 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb 24). The Negro History Week featured a series of programs, becoming an annual event. In 1929, in conjunction with several churches and officials of the State Department of Education, the event was popularized across states. State teachers were fully involved, and official literature was distributed. Carter G. Woodson knew the importance and power of education, so he exploited it.
Soon after, schools started incorporating the teachings of the history of Black Americans in their curriculum, which was one of the cardinal goals of the movement.
His legacy lived on even after he died in 1950. Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in Feb 1969. In 1976, the one-week event was extended to a month, as we know it today, Black History Month.
Black History Month was kicked-started by Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai-Sebo in 1987. Addai-Sebo was a special projects officer at the Greater London Council. His premier Black History Month event was centred on tackling the identity crisis faced by black children in the UK. It is worth noting that October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. Addai picked October because it coincides with the start of the school year, thus giving young people much to be inspired about as they begin the school year.
In the UK, this national event promotes and acknowledges the contributions of black people to the British Society, and the world at large. It provides a platform for the untold stories of black people to be shared in their full context, and not partial histories. Stories of Racism, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, The Scramble for Africa, and the British Colonial Past are told by blacks in the original versions, not in versions with bits edited out.
This has resulted in a deeper understanding and appreciation of the travails and subsequent triumphs of black history. Understanding this history has enabled subsequent generation to see that Black British History is indeed British History, and it is a shared history.
A history of interactions that belongs to all of us. It is why we ought to celebrate black history not just every October, but all year round because it is a celebration of all our histories interwoven throughout time.
The scope of this celebration has broadened over time as it evolved. In the UK, it now focuses on Black British History and the icons that have brought prestige and honour to their immediate society.
Some notable figures include:
—Walter Tull; The first black officer to command white troops in the British army.
—Malorie Blackman; A bestselling author, and the first black children's book laureate.
—Dr Shirley Thompson; The first woman in Europe to compose and conduct a symphony.
Today many organisations are involved in the celebration that is held across communities, in museums, schools, universities, care homes, workplaces, on the streets, etc.
WHY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH IMPORTANT TO US?
There are so many lessons to take away from black history month, but one striking and pivotal message to us is the awareness of self-identity and the awakening that black history month has ignited.
This awareness allows us to realise how unique we truly are. This awareness adores black skin in all its shades, and black hair in all its forms; from afros, to dreadlocks, to traditional styles, kinks and curls. Hair holds different meanings to every one of us, but the afro hair is distinctively unique as it is hair that has a robust and in-depth history. It is an integral feature of black history.
The Afro hair comes with a strong sense of identity. From African history; you could tell the tribe, family, social class or marital status of a person with how they wore their hair. So, it was common practice for slave masters to shave the heads of slave. That was equivalent to ridding them of identity. According to many African customs, shaving the head was a sign of mourning or shame.
When slaves got their freedom back, their natural afro hair became a symbol of strength, resistance and survival. The sight of the Afro hair today is a signal of hope and self-love around the globe. Somewhere down the line, blacks were pressured into thinking that afro hair was substandard and had to be changed to be acceptable, but Afro hair became an identity for African-Americans during the Civil Rights movement in the 1970s.
Melba Tolliver, the first African-American to anchor a television news show at ABC News, dared the authorities and stood up for black culture by showing up for work in her Afro hair. She even covered a national wedding, the wedding of the president's daughter, in her Afro hair without a headdress. Of course, this wasn't conventionally acceptable at the time. She was fired for it, but had sent a message: "I am proud of my hair as it grows out of my head, and I love who I am". Her actions emboldened many, and a few years later, notable figures like Jesse Jacks and Angela Davis took up the style.
Once it was a symbol of oppression, and now it's a symbol of empowerment and activism. One hair type, multiple stories. Celebrating the afro hair is a reminder of how far black history has come. It is putting things in perspective, erasing all the years of wrong societal perceptions because we never forgot who we are. Today we have young men and women embracing their afro-curly hair and loving it.
Afro hair care online platforms are buzzing with people researching, and taking our afro curly hair courses like The Afro Curly Hair Mastery Course to learn how to better handle their hair.
This is what identity is about; “Taking back your power”. Black History Month is saying no to perpetrators of racist ideals!
It is about action. It is YOU celebrating black culture, and becoming actively involved in calling out discriminatiory behaviours against the black race rather than being an inactive bystander.
It doesn't matter what colour of skin you have.
Black History Month is a month of celebration for all of us. It's a month for humanity!
Join us in celebrating Black History Month with our afro curly black hair which speaks volumes of our rich cultural heritage and deep-rooted values.
HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH!!!!