"Unite" (1969), by Barbara Jones-Hogu, a central figure of the '60s and '70s Black Arts Movement

Black and proud: what Black History Month means to me

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For me, celebrating black people, our history and our culture is a radical act.

In a world where black people are often othered and systematically devalued, choosing to celebrate blackness as a source of beauty, strength and excellence is radical.

While I choose to celebrate my people and heritage every day of the year, February marks a special time for reflection, education and celebration. 

Black History Month, which has been recognized as a national observance since 1976, traces its roots to Negro History Week, which was founded by historian Carter G. Woodson 50 years earlier. Woodson and his peers established Negro History Week as a way to combat the misrepresentation and underrepresentation of black people in history books.

In the words of Woodson, “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.”

More than 90 years later, this Black History Month is poised to be one of, if not the, greatest of my life thus far.

From the “Black Panther” premiere on Feb. 16 to the dozens of educational and social events black student organizations at UCF have planned, I am excited, to say the least.

Black History Month is a time to honor the dead and celebrate the living, reflect on how far we’ve come and how much progress still needs to be made and continue learning about the diverse, rich history of African diasporic people in the United States and around the world.

I stand on the backs of giants; I stand on the backs of ordinary people who fought against extraordinary circumstances with horrors I will never know and never fully comprehend.

I am a proud descendant of enslaved people, of individuals who were ripped from their homelands across the Atlantic. My family has deep roots in the Carolinas, our adopted home, and I enjoy my visits north while also hoping to someday know the name of our motherland.

There are missing links — gaps in my personal family history — I feel compelled to fill as I conduct research and retrace a broken path. And yet, I feel whole as I see myself within a greater narrative of hope and continued resistance, innovation and reclamation.

I take pride in this narrative.

One that is still being written as black people the world over fight against systemic oppression and seek to loosen the chains that bind us. 

We dare to proclaim black lives matter. From the fight against mass incarceration and state-sanctioned police brutality to the struggle for environmental justice, black people are at the forefront of social justice movements vying for equity and full equality. 

We have the audacity to challenge portrayals of history which omit us outright or whitewash the contributions of our most prominent figures.

I count myself among the many black people who have a long way to go as we decolonize our minds and make sense of the lasting effects of slavery, colonization and the diaspora. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned about the subjectivity of history and how its portrayal largely depends on who wields the pen.

To quote Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist best known for writing the critically-acclaimed book “Things Fall Apart,” “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Black perspectives matter. Inclusion and meaningful representation matter as our understanding of the past informs our relationship with the present and the direction of the future.

Finally, we have the gall to say blackness is valid, in all forms and with all of its intersections. 

Black is queer. Black is Latinx. Black is Muslim. Black is undocumented.

Black is a plethora of diverse, overlapping identities belonging to African diasporic people that transcend societal boundaries.

Black is beautiful.

And I am proud to say that black is me.