For me, Black History Month has always been about learning a new prominent Black figure every day. Most notably, I learned more about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. And in high school, it was watching the spectacular Black History Month Celebration performances.
I’ll be honest: my mom never put too much of an emphasis on the 28 day Black History Month at home. Because, for her, every month is Black History Month. Each day is an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of our ancestors, our great grandparents, our grandparents… Above the desk I’m writing at now, there’s a framed picture titled, “Our History,” with pictures and descriptions of Barack Obama, Ruby Dee, and Maya Angelou, to name a few. In the kitchen, there’s a framed picture of notable Black women throughout history, all surrounding Michelle Obama. And, in the living room, we have the “Kentucky African American Encyclopedia,” “A Black Women Anthropology,” all of Barack and Michelle Obama’s books, and so much more. She has instilled that in me, the pioneering works of Black innovators, artists, authors, doctors, leaders, and others should be celebrated. She always says, “But through it all we persisted,” meaning that despite all of the trauma, racism, discrimination, and hatred we’ve endured, we still continue to break down barriers and achieve.
Outside my home, however, felt completely different. It didn’t feel like a place where Black history and Black culture were celebrated, even during the month of February. It sounded like my middle school peers asking me, “Why do you act so white?” It felt like the fury and sadness that encompassed the pictures and videos of police brutality that I viewed on my phone.”It looked like girls pulling my hair to see if it was fake and peers asking me why my skin was so dark.
Although, this past year really shifted my outlook on my experience. I spent more time with myself and my family than I had ever before. My fast-paced teenaged life came to a standstill. I was given time to breathe, rest, and maybe find a new cookie recipe or two to try out. But it also gave me the time to grieve, to learn, to educate myself, and learn how to educate others. To cry. To laugh. To listen. Seeing George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and David Mcatee, die at the hands of law enforcement created a resentful sadness in my community. And I acknowledge that as a young Black woman, sometimes I am not the picture of strength. Yes, I am strong in the sense that I stand up for what I want; I’m strong because I’m athletic; I’m strong because of my courage. But at the same time, I embrace my emotions — how much I cry and how much I feel. Because those emotions, to me, show my compassion. It’s important for Black women to embrace this emotional side in order to heal the generational trauma, the anxiety, the distress, and all that 2020 brought upon us. 2020 called out the Louisville I know that needed to be called out –– from our lagging effects of de facto segregation, redlining, racism, classism, and faults in our justice system. Louisville needed a wake-up call. We all did.
I preface this to say this Black History Month, I’ve never felt more proud. I feel awakened in my Black identity. I feel proud of my people. I feel proud of the steps Black women are making in this country. I feel proud that people are being called out. I feel proud of the young Black activists making change in our communities. I feel proud of Black celebrities using their platforms to bring more attention to social issues. I’m proud. And this is a new feeling to me. Growing up in predominantly white schools, sports, and activities, came with this sense of alienation I didn’t know how to deal with as a child. I felt this constant struggle with my identity.
But to quote James Baldwin (and my senior quote): “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” This quote encompasses my journey with my blackness and my identity. And today I use the strength of my family to carry me into the world. I am from a generation of sharecroppers who lived just outside Louisville, KY. I am the granddaughter of a woman who fought to keep food on the table, the water on, and clothes for her kids. I am the daughter of two hardworking individuals that grew up in the projects of West Louisville. I’ve grown into my own identity. Realizing who I am makes me want to help others — to listen, to care, and to give back. Because that’s my greatest power, I have the capability to make life better for another person. I am trailblazing a path for little Black girls from Louisville, KY just like me. And that’s what Black History Month means to me.