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What Black History Month Should Be

(Theodore Johnson, 2012 White House Fellow) The current aim of Black History Month should not be the construction of a mere timeline of events and personas. Instead, it should be to explore the many and varied journeys of our black citizens today. This approach will inherently intersect with the seminal moments in black history while also providing an accompanying personal narrative that commands a deeper appreciation. In this way, facts in textbooks leap off the page and become life-changing inspirations more accessible to all Americans…
[W]hy must we wait until February to talk about [George Washington] Carver's development of crop rotation methods that tremendously increased yields and continues to be central to the farming industry? This fact is integral to any serious discussion about the American agrarian capitalism that predated the Industrial Revolution and still persists in today's agribusiness.
Carver did not make contributions solely intended for black America; he was a black man who made contributions to all of America. Let's discuss his path instead of relegating him to the peanut gallery. There may be interest in the fact, but there is power in the story.
This isn't an abstract concept; it's personal. Black History Month taught me that Booker T. Washington was the first black man to have dinner with the President at the White House. Interesting, sure. But the more compelling context is that the event touched my great-grandparents and forged my family's path for the next century when they named their son after the president, Theodore Roosevelt. Through lynchings, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, black power and the mainstreaming of black celebrity, this latest chapter in our story concluded with my dinner with the first black president of the United States.
Black history is this sort of century-long journey that evinces the faith of a family, even when it presents harsh realities. While the above may sound especially American, the forced immigration of my male African ancestor to this land and the forced removal of my female Native American ancestor from this land is equally American. This month should focus on the exploration of these hard truths.
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