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The Light and Shadow of Black History Month

Welcome to Black History Month, one the most important months of the year for reflection, education and awareness. While Black history surrounds and affects us every day, I relish the dedication of this month to digging deep into how Black people have shaped our world - efforts and accomplishments that have too often been hidden or lost to bias, bigotry, ignorance and hatred.

This is a month that reminds me of how far we have come and how much every one of us still has to contribute. It should be a month of hope, joy, and celebration, however there is still a shadow that looms over our capacity to truly own this celebration.

Since 1976, every United States president has designated the month of February as Black History Month, 28 (or 29) days dedicated to celebrating Black heritage and the achievements of people of African descent, worldwide. In the United States, this is a time for recognizing our central role in U.S. history.

The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, exactly 50 years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. That year, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) was started by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland to research and promote achievements by people of African descent.

In 1926, the ASALH sponsored the first Negro History Week, choosing the second week in February to align with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Schools and communities around the country were inspired to organize their own local celebrations and events, beginning a history of honoring Black presence in America.

As time progressed, the week gained traction and more and more communities began taking part. Cities around the country began formally recognizing "Negro History Week" every year in February, and by the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, "Negro History Week" had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.

In 1976, Black History Month finally became what we know of it today when President Gerald Ford granted official recognition, calling upon the American public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Today, museums, college campuses, government agencies, and nationwide communities rally together to recognize contributions that people of African descent have made throughout American and world history and their legacies.

So why the shadow? The battle for equity, acceptance and inclusion is still a part of the daily struggle for Black people. The battle for justice and peace continues as we hold our heads high and stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Our shared dream is to live our lives knowing that we will be treated fairly and respected for the content of our character and not disrespected because of the color of our skin. The shadow looms until the dream becomes a reality.

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