February is Black History Month and has long been recognized and observed at Forsyth Technical Community College. That makes me proud of our commitment to Black History, a history that must be brought forward prominently in our country’s history. While we will not be able to gather as usual at the Mazie S. Woodruff Center for our annual celebration this month, I encourage you to take part in our virtual series on Exploring Why Black Lives Matter.
To me, celebrating Black History Month is an essential part of understanding all of American history. In order to grow together in the present and transform the future to make it better, we have to see the past with clear eyes. The history of Black people in America is one of slavery, persecution, segregation, and being treated as “less than.” Promises were broken following Emancipation and are still broken today through social injustice and unequal socioeconomic opportunities.
Black History Month began as Negro History Week during the second week of February in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an educator known as the father of Black History Month. This particular week was chosen as it is the week of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays.
In Woodson’s words,
“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
― Carter G. Woodson
Fifty years later in 1976, President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as Black History Month during the American Bicentennial.
Now, 45 years later, we witnessed how the pandemic hit the Black community especially hard as economic disparities became even more evident. We continue to struggle with widespread racial injustice and systemic racism. We grieve the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more Black men and women, and other marginalized genders.
Black Lives Matter. I do not offer that in this blog as a political statement, even though it has been interpreted by many to be confrontational and divisive, and construed as a declaration that other lives do not matter. I ask you to consider this from Karen Stollznow, a research fellow at Griffith University:
“Black Lives Matter was not intended to mean that other lives do not matter. In a world where Black people are stigmatized, marginalized, and discriminated against, Black Lives Matter simply recognizes Black lives matter, too … responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “all lives matter” derails the specific conversation about racism against Black people.”
Last year, 2020, was a year filled with disruption and discord, with our country sharply divided against itself. We have now entered a new year, yet we remain fractured. The only way forward, is for us to tackle the issues that are dividing us boldly by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and addressing the truth of our past and our present, so we can forge a new way forward to a future.
At Forsyth Tech, our #OneWord2021 is Unite. We chose Unite, not to suggest we should accept polarization and disfunction, and we do not subscribe to the adage that we can agree to disagree about ethical, moral, and systemic racism issues. We chose Unite because we believe in the hope of unity, and that belief is grounded in the notion that the only way to true equity and equality for all Americans lies in our ability to once and finally go forward together.
We cannot rewrite our past or make it less disturbing or painful, and we have to accept that our perceptions of the past are framed by our unique and individual experiences. True healing and reconciliation lie in our ability to see the past clearly, to learn from the experiences that make up our individual and collective histories, and to forge our future in truth and with love for one another as brothers and sisters of humanity.
The Rev. Martin Luther King left his vision and his legacy to give us hope.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yes, Black Lives Matter because the unfairness and injustice against Black people, Indigenous people, and all persons of color in America, is still a problem in our society that we need not only discuss, but also come together to change.