Every year during the month of February, we celebrate the innumerable contributions of African Americans in the United States. It’s a joyous time and one that is well-deserved, particularly for a people who suffered (and continue to suffer) under the thumb of racial oppression.
Ironically enough, many people are surprised to learn just how much their African American counterparts have contributed to society. A few of these Black History Month factoids may shock you:
- Benjamin Banneker taught himself astronomy and math to become America’s “First Known African American Man of Science”. He helped to design the blueprints for Washington, D.C.
- Madam C.J. Walker was an African American entrepreneur who became America’s first female self-made millionaire.
- Allensworth is the first all-Black Californian township, founded and financed by African Americans. Created by Lieutenant Colonel Allen Allensworth in 1908, the town was built with the intention of establishing a self-sufficient city where African Americans could live their lives free of racial prejudice.
What makes these contributions so remarkable is that the people who achieved them did so under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. These individuals lived in a world that chastised them for the color of their skin and for their birthplace of origin. Despite this troubling reality, they learned to navigate in a world that was unkind to them. They were bold, mindful, and brave.
But the truth is, Black History extends far beyond racial lines. Black History is Our History.
It bothers me that there is a distinct delineation between Black History and American History when they are one in the same. The history of United States is filled with stories of boldness, mindfulness, and bravery – from people of all walks of life. But we cannot take the good without the bad. We must accept, recognize, and acknowledge the uncomfortable truths that are mixed into our salad bowl of a nation. These truths, these tales of brutality, hatred, and bigotry have impacted communities that still hurt today.
This month, we turn our attention to African Americans, another month we will focus on the plight of the Asian American community, and another month we will pay homage to the indigenous peoples of Native America. These cultural celebrations have earned their rightful place in our hearts and in our calendars, but don’t you think they are worth so much more?
I know what you’re thinking: “This sounds pretty bleak, Renee. Don’t you want us to celebrate Black History?”
Yes, of course I want you to celebrate Black History, but expand your mind to think beyond the short month of February. Look to your left and to your right, pick up a newspaper or read an article online and recognize that people are contributing to Our History every day. If we look within our own credit union community, we will find some cool and surprising contributions by our colleagues.
Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate Our History – the history of the United States of America. The soil we stand on is rich in opportunity. And as financial cooperatives and credit union advocates, we have the power to create opportunities and affect change for all people.
Yes, let’s lean on the empowering African American voices and talent that our industry has. But more importantly, let’s work together to navigate our country’s ever-changing environment, an environment filled with wonderful culture and diversity.
We are the authors of our generational history. Let’s change the narrative to encapsulate all facets of history and to authentically reflect how far we’ve come. The accomplishments of African Americans, and of all people for that matter, are truly innumerable, but what can we do now to make sure they make it into Our History?
When it comes to unifying our nation, it’s no secret that there is still so much work for us to do to become whole. But I choose to celebrate our collective positive wins toward meaningful change – wins that occur everyday in our daily lives. From the young man opening a door for the elderly woman to the kind patron who pays for the person ahead of them at Starbucks, each day is an opportunity to reshape and rewrite Our History. These small acts of generosity and kindness keep me hopeful that one day soon, very soon – we will celebrate OUR HISTORY.