Born and raised in a multi-racial home in Charlotte, NC, Stephanie Watkins-Cruz is a very proud advocate for all things diverse and inclusive. A full time student at UNC Asheville...
I recently wrote a piece about some of the challenges that I and fellow students of color face when trying to plan, celebrate, and enjoy Black History month while attending a PWI (primarily white institution), and you find that article here.
What I didn’t do was go into why I personally choose to celebrate it.
As one of the leaders of the Black Student Association on my campus at UNCA I will not lie and say that certain pressures do not come with the responsibilities I have taken on. However, this particular month, this year – more than ever before – I have noticed a difference, which has led me to attempt to articulate why I personally feel passionately about celebrating this month.
First, I celebrate to show honor and respect.
The contributions that African Americans have made to American history and society as a whole are too many and too significant to not pay homage to. From the pace maker to the heated furnace to hair products to music to recipes, there are too many contributions to disregard. And many of these amazing people created these things in conditions where they were discriminated against, living unprotected by law and authority, and were constantly belittled and dehumanized. And so now in 2015, aside from the continual systematic killing of young Black individuals, it is my belief that these creators, these lawyers, educators, inventors, fighters and amazing individuals, who paved the way for my family, my friends, for me, deserve to be celebrated.
Second, I celebrate so that I can learn.
Growing up in a multi-cultural home, the knowledge shared to me was mostly anecdotal and the history was mostly given to me at school. Pause. And so that obviously left some gaps in my grasping of Black History and cultural in general. Black History Month is one of the most educational times of the year for me (although the learning never stops and the celebration should be constant). It is the time when every day there’s a new fact up, an article talking about the life of those living and passed, some blurb about culture, some news special or TV series that feeds my desire to learn more about Black History and culture for 28 days straight.
Third, it fuels my strength and desire to celebrate all the days of the year.
I’m not going to cynically address how Black folks got the shortest month of the year. My third and last reason (that I can clearly articulate) that I choose to celebrate Black History Month is that it is a rejuvenating month. I think that it is easy, as a person of color, or even a socially conscious person in general to get bogged down by the tragedies and injustices that occur in the world around us. It is too easy to stay on the sadness and miss the motivation and the inspiration. It is also easy to get stuck in this mindsets of, “I’m Black so I have to celebrate Black History month” or, “I’m not racist so I’ll celebrate Black History Month” or even, “I can’t celebrate because I’m so tired of talking about oppression and racism”.
But as I mentioned in my article in Shades of Color — You don’t have to be Black to celebrate, and you don’t have to be Black to learn. What you do need is an open mind, and the courage to check your privilege and engage in conversation. This month is more than recognizing the tragedies that African Americans have endured. It is also about celebrating and educating each other on all the good that was and continues to be produced. It’s about integrating the Black lives previously just categorized as Black lives into the fold of American History and also building cultural pride. It is rejuvenating to have 28 days to celebrate an amazing people and history and culture. It gives me strength and motivation to learn of those before me, their bravery, how they fought, how they pursued and pressed on. I am thankful that I have the remaining days of this month and always to celebrate, and fight, and learn with this newfound burst of energy from this amazing history.
So I ask all my readers no matter the color of your skin, take a moment to learn something new in honor of Black History Month. Take a moment to celebrate. Take a moment to be engaged and to recognize, Black History is American History.