Black History Month celebrates black milestones

By Klarize Medenilla

February is Black History Month, which celebrates the achievements of African Americans in United States history.

Inspired by historian Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Week, Black History Month was recognized as a national celebration in 1976, and every U.S. president has designated the month of February for the event.

Tashiana Bryant, coordinator at Cal Poly Pomona’s African American Student Center, considers Black History Month to be an opportunity for individuals to learn about and understand the obstacles black people have overcome for equality and justice.

“It’s a time for those who do not identify with the community to honor the history and contributions that black people have made to this world and society,” said Bryant. “As a person who identifies as a black woman with African descent I celebrate black history all year. This is my every day, but this month is a chance for others to understand our struggle.”

Among the landmark events in black history in the U.S., the abolishment of slavery, the desegregation of schools, the termination of the Jim Crow laws and the election of President Barack Obama as the first black U.S. President are among the most significant, according to Bryant.

CPP President Soraya Coley’s appointment as the first black president at CPP is also a milestone that inspires and encourages leadership among young black students, said Bryant.

Members of CPP’s black student community embrace Black History Month and see it as a way to honor the past as a way to understand the present.

“Black History Month, to me, is the importance of African American excellence and all what we have accomplished in academics,” said Ebony Sanders, a third-year psychology student. “It’s about promoting the inspirations that came for African Americans.”

Third-year international business student Nkeiruka Igbonagwam believes that the holiday is important in educating the younger generations of the past generation’s leaders and their fight for equal rights.

Black History Month places a huge emphasis on the figures of the civil rights movement like Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most important leaders in history, according to Igbonagwam.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. is a big influence to me, personally,” said Igbonagwam. “When I took history classes and we had to do research on our great leaders, I always chose him because he motivates me in terms of leadership. He motivates me in a way that makes me want to be remembered like him.”

One of the major issues concerning the black community in the U.S. today is police brutality and the number of black Americans that have been killed by law enforcement officials in the last few years.

The controversial Black Lives Matter movement was born as a protest against police brutality toward the black community. Bryant considers the movement a contemporary milestone that will be remembered and a continuation of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

“It put a light on the things we’ve been experiencing every day that has always been going on, and the violence against black people and perceived threat of black people has always been there,” said Bryant. “We’re still making milestones, and the Black Lives Matter movement is something that I’m incredibly proud of.”

Because of its name, the common view of the Black Lives Matter movement is that it downplays the lives of other races. But Sanders said that is not the case and that the movement is for advocacy and empowerment of the black community.

“It means black excellence, black education, promoting the beauty that is being African American, and it’s not saying that one life means more than another,” said Sanders. “It’s to let you know that, as a minority, you can do what they are telling you that you can’t do in your circumstances.”

Despite the wide acceptance of Black History Month, there are opponents that believe it marginalizes the history of black Americans.

Academics challenge the intentions of the holiday by saying that celebrating the past achievements distracts people from the ongoing racial struggles of today.

A 2016 study from Ghent University in Belgium called “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of Black History Month For Life: The Creation of the Post Racial Era” suggested that the effects of Black History Month has “encouraged the view that racism is vanishing in the river of time.”

“The constant demand to view American racism through a historical frame has led to the perception that racism is a problem that must be historically transcended rather than solved,” said Kenan Van De Mieroop, a researcher of African American history at Ghent University, who penned the study.

However, Bryant disagrees with this perspective and does not think that Black History Month feigns a conclusion to racism. It is far more than a look back; it is also is a reminder of how the endeavors of the past still apply to contemporary issues, said Bryant.

“I don’t think it necessarily takes away from the fight that black leaders, activists and students fighting and the struggles we’re going through,” said Bryant. “I don’t think it’s being ignored.”

“If anything, I try connecting history with what’s going on today. When I teach students, I tell them to think about what our ancestors did because a lot of the methods used back then like peaceful protests and boycott are still used today. It’s all still relevant.”

Black History Month

Sungah Choi / The Poly Post

Black History Month

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