There are some today who wonder why we need to observe and celebrate Black History, particularly when society has made such remarkable gains in acknowledging and embracing the worth of the Negro. “Slavery is a thing of the past,” they say. “Blacks can live anywhere, work and lead in any profession, and have access to everything needed to achieve the American Dream. We have even elected the first African American president in the history of this country. Why then,” they argue, “Should continual emphasis be given to the trials and triumphs of a people who have essentially seen the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream?”
In response, there are those who will readily point out that all is not as it may seem in American race relations. The past few years in particular have seen spotlighted accounts of injustice and prejudice in many areas of social interaction. Incidents of unarmed black men being killed in confrontations with police or armed white men has driven many to the streets in protest. In addition, the effects of 200 years of slavery, along with decades of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the South can still be seen in the psyche of some who struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. Many elders in the black community feel strongly that current generations of youth need to understand the cost of the freedoms and opportunities they now possess, and sometimes squander or take for granted.
Perhaps a more compelling reason is the same that motivates the Jews to keep the memories of the Holocaust alive in the public mindset: so that it may never happen again. History has proven, after all, that achievements and gains can be lost with the coming to power of a generation disconnected from its past.
I would add one more reason. There is something in all of us that responds positively to accounts of triumph over adversity, and progress in the face of tremendous odds. Those stories inspire and motivate us in our own unique journeys of life. Thus, we affirm Black History month celebrations.
Who could not be inspired by the achievement of Madam C.J. Walker? This entrepreneurial woman developed and sold hair care products which propelled her to become the first black female millionaire in this country. Frederick Douglass was a former slave who, mainly through self-effort, educated himself and became a prolific speaker, writer and leader of the abolitionist movement. Similarly, Booker T. Washington rose from slavery to become the most influential educator in the black community in his day. He argued for the education and self-reliance of the Negro as key to their betterment. Shirley Chisolm rode the wave of the civil rights movement to become the first African American female to serve in the U.S. congress in 1968.
There are numerous other stories of individuals whose lives have contributed to the development of our society and the betterment of all Americans. Thankfully, we have a month each year to review and benefit from the impact that they made. In the process, may all of us be equally inspired to make our own mark and leave a positive imprint for our generation and those yet to come.
Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.