Less than 200 years ago, slavery was abolished in the United States. Less than 100 years ago, our schools and water fountains were segregated. It wasn’t even until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, that minorities were able to vote without racial discrimination.
We have friends and coworkers, teachers and mentors, doctors and lawyers, a former President of our country whose history is rooted in slavery and fighting for basic human and civil rights.
Yet, the shortest month of the year is the one dedicated to honoring a people with such an extensive and persevering history. Thanks to 2020 being a leap year, February has an extra day to celebrate those whose faces have been erased from history.
During Black History Month, we encourage everyone to read a book, watch a movie, explore a different genre of music, participate in a march or movement, or do anything else that you feel honors the meaning and history behind this month.
Unfortunately, too many schools do not teach enough about black historical figures, they rarely teach about minority figures at all really. Schools touch on influential characters throughout history like Rosa Parks, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr.
But what about forgotten stories? Like that of Henrietta Lacks?
Lacks was a black woman examined at John Hopkins Hospital and a sample of her cells was taken without her consent. Lacks’ cells were unique because unlike other cells that died quickly, hers doubled every 20 to 24 hours.
“HeLa” cells, as we know them today, have been cloned and sold to use in experiments and advance medical research. They helped make the polio vaccine and also study the long term effects of radiation.
Today, there are millions more HeLa cells in the world than ever existed in Lacks’ body. She had no knowledge her cells were taken from her body and her family did not know until 20 years after her death.
The Harlem Renaissance: one of the most influential and notable artistic movements of history. Little is taught about it, other than maybe playing Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World.” But that wasn’t even recorded until 1968, about 30 years after the Renaissance ended.
It’s important to recognize the purpose and significance of Black History Month. It’s about appreciating a rich and lively culture that not only endures, but preservers.
It’s about accepting all the suffering and strife that people went through, all the hardships and obstacles that were overcome. But more than this, it is about seeing how far we have come, and acknowledging that there is still a long way to go.