By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
The importance of knowing history is to learn from it. We remember to thank historian Carter G. Woodson for first establishing Black History Week as a “celebration” of African American achievement back in 1926. During the years we have come to celebrate Black History Month in the month of February not only in America, but also throughout the world.
Black people are often, in too many instances, the object of daily racial stereotypes and negative cynicism in the mainstream media. The month of February each year, at least for the majority of African Americans and others who have a sense of the value of diversity and inclusiveness, is the time for reflection and celebration of the progress and achievements that African people have made in the United States and across the globe. Black History Month, therefore, is an annual time when there is a more visible, positive energy, and consciousness about African American progress.
Of course, we all know that our struggle for freedom, justice, and equality continues even while we recognize our achievements. It is also most important that we take the time to share the teachings and learning from our history with the children of our communities. African American youth will be proud of our history to the extent to which we will take more time to tell it, explain it and to make sure that our youth will understand and appreciate it. Again, this is why the African American press is important in all of its multiple media formats. The good news is there is a hunger and thirst by millions of young people in our communities for more awareness and knowledge about African American and African history.
The historic transformation of Egypt during this Black History Month observance is noteworthy. Egypt is one of the oldest nations in the world. Sixty percent of the population in Egypt is under the age of 30. The dramatic changes in Egypt that were led by the youth of that African nation should serve as a global reminder that the future destiny of the world is not in the hands of those who live vicariously in the past blindly with no vision, hope or plan to make social, economic, political and cultural progress. The future is the hands of young people who know their history and take their responsibility for freedom and progress seriously.
February 11, 2011 was the day of transformation in Egypt. But, we also should remember and continue to celebrate that February 11, 1990 was the day that Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison in South Africa after spending 27 years in prison unjustly as a political prisoner held by the apartheid regime. Mandela stated, “Our march to freedom is irreversible”
Here in the United States, one of the most significant recent historical moments was the election of President Barack H. Obama in November of 2008. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Census Bureau is now reporting the voter “turnout rate” in the 2008 national elections was the highest for Black Americans (65%) as compared to all other racial groups identified by the U.S. Census Bureau. We all should know that the age group within the African American community that had the largest percent increase in voter turnout from 2004 to 2008 was the “18- to 24-year-old citizen black population.” Now, between Black History Month 2011 and 2012, we got some homework to do to make sure that this trend in Black American civic participation and historic voter turnout continues.
Let’s make sure here in the United States that our march to freedom is also “irreversible.” Once again, the history of voting and the blood-soaked price that African Americans, in particular, had to pay to get the right to vote should never be forgotten or taken for granted. Yes, we have a lot to celebrate. There has been progress. But, we also have a lot to be sober about: high unemployment, imprisonment, high school dropout rate, poverty, and too many in a state of disillusionment. But, we must not be cynical and self-destructive. There are solutions to all these problems. If “Black History” has taught us anything that we should always remember, it is that our struggle for freedom is protracted. We will have victories and we will have defeats, but through it all we must never let our spirit be broken. Trials and tribulations should strengthen us, not weaken us. We have come too far to let new winds of oppression blow us off course. Let’s raise up a new generation of freedom fighters.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr is Senior Advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation