Black History Month has always been a source of panic for me. For some reason, I'm always worried that I'm not doing enough or that I'll miss something great on TV or in theatre. I always get a little irritated that it's the shortest month of the year when there is SO much to cover. This year, I decided to do a little bit more. It was an eye-opening experience. As a favor to a church friend of mine, I agreed to host an online chat session about Black History Month for about 25 of the church youths (ages 14 – 18). After an hour and a half of shock and dismay, let me just say… I weep for the future. And yet, I feel certain that every single generation has felt this way about "the kids" coming up behind them. But this time… they may be right. Witness if you will, some of the gems mined from this session.
I opened with a soft question: What does Black History Month mean to you? Now I had some okay answers but to a person, they all mentioned Martin Luther King. A little narrow in scope, so I decided to ask a follow up question – do you think Black History in America begins with MLK? Most enlightening answer: The history that impacts us began with MLK. This let me know that beyond Malcolm and Martin, these kids were not that informed. So I delved a little deeper: Who can tell me (without Googling) who was Marcus Garvey? Dead silence. Sojourner Truth? "A rapper, right?" Le Huge Sigh. I cried a little inside and then embedded these links about each person:
Immediately, they had questions about what I had sent and wondered why they didn't know more about people like this. The majority of their questions revolved around the fact that they no longer felt that slavery had a huge impact on their lives. In fact, they felt that with the election of Obama, the biggest battle had been won and they were going to sit back and enjoy what one of them called "the new black privilege". <- - Definitely a topic for another post.
So I asked: Who can name a war or battle that contributed to the freedoms you enjoy today? Among many scary answers came: The East Coast/West Coast Rap Battle of the 90s. Instead of scoffing at the child I asked if he knew where the origin of rap was rooted. This boy said Bed-Stuy. I said no. Someone else said church. I said okay and where did those church songs and "call-and-response" cadences come from? Finally someone said slavery and spirituals. They all became highly amused at the thought of slaves in the cotton field rapping. "What kind of tags were they poppin' in the fields? Any bling in the 1800s?" Moving on, I explained that rap was a form of communicating social conditions as were the old field spirituals. That at least registered some interest and they had a lot of questions about the influence of music on Black culture from then to now. I sent them this overview.
Finally, thinking I had achieved a breakthrough, I asked the following questions: What was the Harlem Renaissance, who started the Underground Railroad, who was Mildred Loving, why did Malcolm claim the last name X? A few come up with Harriet Tubman but that was about it. At this time, I was exhausted and told them to look the rest up. I ended by giving a little quiz (which I've embedded below for your good times).
Granted, I wasn't exactly hip deep in knowledge of African-American History myself at 15. But Eyes on the Prize and documentaries like it were required watching in my home. BougieDad spent more hours than I care to think about pontificating on all things blackilicious from the Congo to Calypso music to Stokely Carmichael.
All of this to say, grab up the young 'uns around you and put something other than rap lyrics in their heads. I beg of you. Black History Month should be a celebration of all the rich heritage and culture in each aspect of African-American life. Let's do our part to make sure it's more than just a month of great movies and tribute videos. Reach one, teach one. Join me in passing along knowledge, won't you?
Any stories about Black History Month to share? Comments? Thoughts?