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Black History Month is upon us. Hopefully, you are planning the many ways from events to memorabilia that will allow you to celebrate the black experience in Tarrant County. If you are not sure what is available, there is hope because there is so much to do and to explore.
As a person who contributes regularly to creative and public practice, the month of February can easily become a busy month. Every year, I am asked to participate (in some way or another) in Black/African American History Month activities across the North Texas region. Add to the equation that February also includes Valentine’s Day as well as my birthday, and it can easily become overwhelming. Being the shortest month of the year, I keep noticing that it becomes fairly easy for each week to be jam-packed with lots of events to go to and things to do. So much so I often found myself saying, “This month went by way too fast.” As a result, I have learned gradually over the years to pace myself and to no longer limit my participation and celebration of Black/African American history and culture to one month.
Celebrating Black History everyday is not a irrational idea as an African American woman, I was essentially raised to do so and actively enjoy engaging in activities throughout my week that affirm who I am, my heritage, and where I come from. Not only did I participate in Black history programs growing up from dancing in church programs to reciting the words of Harriet Tubman, but my mom also regularly took my siblings and I to Black bookshops, cultural centers, hairstylists, and cultural events 365 days a year. She gifted us with Mahogany greeting cards for our birthdays and special occasions, and made sure we were exposed to positive representations of black women and men both in the media and in our local communities. We were members of a Black church with its own rich cultural legacy of black professionals and cultural leaders among its membership. Our home library was equipped with not only children’s books by Black authors, but also oral histories written by our own ancestors about how our family had survived slavery and Jim Crow. I recognize now as an adult how incredibly rich that kind of experience was and how it built my confidence as a black woman in ways that may not have been modeled for all black children and surely were not as accessible to many people generations before.
For this reason, I recognize more and more the importance of setting aside ongoing time to research and acknowledge the contributions of Black/African Americans throughout history continuously. Beyond engaging in a month of cultural activities and lists of notable Black/African Americans, the reality is that there is far more rich and relevant history that spans the African diaspora than a mere 28 days (or 29 during a leap year) could ever hold. This truth challenges me to celebrate and research the Black/African American experience and the experiences of other ethnicities and cultures every day, so I can be and model the kind of informed, global citizen I strive to be. That being said, there are more than enough reasons to both make February the greatest cultural celebration of blackness possible and find ways to extend the value of Black history throughout the year.
The Case for Black/African American History Month
Interestingly, I hear counter-arguments every year that question why a whole month is set aside to highlight the contributions and experiences of people of African descent. Such a question assumes there are and have always been accurate representations of people of color within history books and textbooks. In reality, so much knowledge about the experiences of people of color is underemphasized and under recognized. We are limited ultimately by what we know and do not know. Clearly we need to know so much more to demystify the incorrect assumptions and stereotypes that are employed instead.
Thankfully, there are people who care to learn more about the diverse cultures and experiences that make up our world, and who allow themselves to see and experience the beauty and humanity within our very complex differences. There are mothers of black and brown children — both biological and non-biological — who are helping their little ones love their textured hair and darker skin. There are also white mothers who are teaching their children cultural awareness, equity, and sensitivity to their peers. We can each do our part by educating ourselves, our children, and others in our community on how to practice cultural humility every day of the week.
As the mother two African American children who are 32 and 5 months, I am challenged by the reality that my little ones are already very aware of their appearance. They need to feel empowered to love their skin and hair even when they can see they are different from their peers. They need to see their cultural history and the contributions and experiences of their ancestors celebrated daily. They need to see their mother being unapologetically proud of who I am and sharing the colorful world that we live in with grace and transparency.
When we read Grace Beyers’ I Am Enough and the books of other black children’s book authors every night, we are reciting the culturally affirming words to each other with light in all of our eyes. We marvel at the beautiful illustrations of little black girls and boys who look like us. We cheer together watching films, videos, and TV shows that celebrate and represent the lives of black people. Not only do I believe #representationmatters every day, but also grasping our cultural identity in positive ways means that we learn how affectively love and care for ourselves and others better.
Reflecting on the example my own parents set for me in their home has given me not only a point of reference, but also an awareness of how their own cultural engagement impacted me personally. From their collection of black figurines and artworks of prominent African Americans on display, their Jet magazines and books of poetry by Maya Angelou and Nicki Giovanni highlighted on the coffee table, their enjoyment of the many genres of African-inspired music, our trips to black-owned businesses and institutions, their participation in African American organizations, and reading black children’s books like John Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters at bedtime.
For me, these experiences taught me that “black is beautiful” every day — not just in one month of the year. In the end, I learned that one month was never meant to cover a whole year’s worth of cultural pride. It was a moment to be recharged, reinvigorated, and inspired to pursue ongoing cultural investigation and activity.
So while Black History Month will come and go, feel free to celebrate the Black/African American experience in Tarrant County every day because doing so is absolutely necessary.
Local Cultural Heritage Sites and Institutions
- Lenora Rolla Heritage Museum (1020 East Humbolt Street, 76104). Open Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. and by appointment. Contact [email protected].
- The Docs Bookshop (6637 Meadowbrook Drive, 76112). Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 1:00–8:00 p.m., Fridays/Saturdays 11:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m., and Sundays 1:00–5:00 p.m. (closed Mondays). Contact 817.457.5700 or email [email protected].
- National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame (2029 North Main Street, 76164). Open Wednesdays through Fridays 12:00–4:00 p.m. and Saturdays 12:00–5:00 p.m.
- Jubilee Theatre (506 Main Street, 76102).