Today, I understand that Black History Month is a 24/7, 365 experience. The awareness that I have today is the result of the foundation laid during the 1970s while attending public school in Detroit, when the term natural almost exclusively referred to a well-coiffed, ball of hair that glistened with oil. And, if you were Black and lucky, it was large enough to bounce when you walked adding coolness and confidence to your stroll. Although the 1970s were a rough time for Black Americans who were living through the aftermath of numerous riots across America, it remained a time when “Black and Proud” was a good thing to be.
For public school students like me, it was a time to make sense of slavery, civil rights, cultural pride and family history. I can remember coming home after one of the month’s Black History lessons and asking my visiting grandfather if he had been a slave as a child. In my 10-year-old mind, I knew that he came from the south and, well, looked old enough to have been an enslaved African. But he wasn’t and so went his potential for celebrity in my immature and developing mind.
Annie, my wonderful third-grade teacher made it permissible to pursue such questions by enriching our understanding of our place in this country through information, pictures, experiences and role modeling. I was gifted with an afro-centric classroom before I understood what the phrase meant. My classroom setting foreshadowed the learning and teaching that was to come.
Culturally, we call this month in February a time for celebrating all that has been ignored, untaught, dismissed and misrepresented when it comes to the contributions of those who labored to survive their ancestors’ experiences. Professionally, Black History Month is just one month of the year-round obligation to fortify the bridge to greater overall cultural unity. “We” do this by highlighting why it is necessary to knock down the walls of internalized oppression and marginalization created by those who fear the outcome of the history they created.
During months like this, we find safety in quoting Dr. Martin Luther King. However, here’s what Malcolm X said: “… it’s time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem; a common problem; a problem that will make you catch hell whether you’re a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist. Whether you’re educated or illiterate, whether you live on the boulevard or in the alley, you’re going to catch hell just like I am. We’re all in the same boat.”
For the Office for Diversity Education, this month means examining the heritage of Blacks in America and using the content thereof to dismantle institutional and systemic challenges to equity and inclusion in the workspace, classrooms and communities in which we live. We accomplish this through learning experiences intended to fill the information gap about the experiences of fellow American in the U.S. In higher education, our goal is to infuse cultural proficiency in everything we do. Such that specialty months become at-risk for extinction because universally we have overcome. If education is a baton and educators are engaged competitors, then the university professor will accept the obligation for culturally inclusive classrooms every day of every month as the handoff from teaching peers at the secondary and primary levels.
- Nikita Murry is the director for the Office for Diversity Education. She has incorporated multiculturalism and diversity in her work as a journalist, counselor educator, and administrator. She is a proud graduate of A.L. Holmes Elementary School, where Annie Bradley was her third-grade teacher.