Living Black History Month: Reaffirming Lessons of Dignity, Self-Determination, Struggle, and Achievement

Living Black History Month: Reaffirming Lessons of Dignity, Self-Determination, Struggle, and Achievement

By Bakari Sanyu

Letter to the Editor

Why is it first and foremost our community’s responsibility to persistently remember our collective history, honor our Ancestors, and strive for excellence and higher achievements? The answer to this central query was institutionalized in the legacy of the first African American newspaper founded within the USA. The ground-breaking newspaper, called Freedom’s Journal was established in the Year 1827 and it functioned as that era’s community mass media genre. This New York City based newspaper clearly answered the query with these exemplary words in an editorial on the front page of the newspaper’s first edition –

“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too

long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which

concern us dearly…”

The critical history lesson the Freedom’s Journal newspaper reaffirms is that our community must own and maintain mass media genres to serve as the community’s voice to tell our own unique complex historical narrative; for publicizing positive achievements and community events; for advocating and affirming exemplary models of excellence; for expanding awareness of issues, developments, and trends that impact the community; and for countering negative and stereotypical imagery frequently disseminated by others.

Purposeful and persistent African American community engagement is necessary to continually reenergize, elevate, perpetuate, and institutionalize our unique complex historical narratives. Our esteemed Ancestor Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875 – 1950), who is cited as the founder of what initially began as Black History Week in 1926, and what has now grown to become Black History Month in 1976, emphasized with his life’s legacy that our community’s collective history cannot be arbitrarily outsourced to others to document.

Dr. Woodson as a historian, author, and journalist noted that African American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them”. The danger of leaving this situation unaddressed was expressed in the keen discernment of the founder of Black History Month in the following quotations:

– “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the
inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history”

– “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

– “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his
actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Accordingly, Dr. Woodson demonstrated self-determination and took the initiative to actively contribute to community uplift by deliberately writing about the history of African Americans, and by joining with other committed individuals and organizations to collectively work to document and preserve our history with the establishment of study groups for research and publication, as well as proceeded to circulate the compiled information to the masses through many Black owned newspapers, pamphlets, periodicals, and magazines. This model of possibility and excellence provided by Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s inspiring legacy, reminds our community that each person has the capacity, duty, and wherewithal to contribute to collective uplift, and our efforts can successfully change prevailing conditions if they are undergirded with self-knowledge, cultural values, focused priorities, self-determination, commitment, and continuous action.

Now fast forward to Year 2019 and we are continuing to honor Black History Month as a traditional designated time to dedicate to collectively celebrate our achievements, reaffirm dignity, renew cultural consciousness, and uplift community service. A valuable lesson for Black History Month from Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, is that we must always struggle and work for ourselves, history and humanity in such a way that:

– “when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say ‘there lived a great people – a Black people – who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.’ This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”

During Black History Month, a central message from Dr. Maulana Karenga, Creator of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, is that:

– “It is our ancestral duty to set aside time and space to celebrate ourselves IN
history and AS history. For we are producers and products of this sacred
narrative, and the subject and center of the most ancient of human histories. …
And we seek and speak truth, do and demand justice, and struggle constantly to
have our lives unfold and flourish as a worthy and seamless whole.”

And just as our forebears provided a legacy of self-determination and Struggle to embrace, and left many productive models for our community to engage, it is still dependent upon us to individually and collectively choose to rise and tell our own unique unfolding narratives, present uplifting dignity-affirming self-imagery, programs, services, festivals, youth activities, functions, events, etc., promote positive social cohesion, as well as reject, challenge, and eliminate self-destructive, self-debasing, and self-erasure behaviors that result from cultural alienation and historical amnesia.

Moreover, we must always remember to honor and vigorously restore our African origin, and never begin our story in the Holocaust of TransAtlantic or TransSaharan Human Enslavement. It is our moral duty to emphasize and correctly assert that it was continual foreign invasions and systemic enslavement that savagely interrupted African history’s millennia, which then produced centuries of widespread forced dispersal of African people throughout the Western Hemisphere. And this situation has produced a current African diaspora of Afro-Panamanians, Afro-Guyanese, Afro-Cubans, Afro-Venezuelans, Afro-Puerto Ricans, Afro-Brazilians, Afro-Canadians, Afro-Belizeans, the majority Afro-Caribbean Islands populations, Afro-Nicaraguans, African Americans, Afro-Hondurans, Afro-Mexicans, Afro-Columbians, etc. These areas were where various European ships repeatedly docked to historically de-board their vessel loads of various captive ethnic groups, which were ruthlessly obtained from the African continent.

Giving thought to the prevailing long-term cultural and psychological damage to our overall community’s well-being and infrastructure development which arose from this immense extended historical holocaust, demands that we first recognize that various assessments of the aftermath of its imposed systemic conditions are not recent, isolated, or coincidental phenomena. Lessons from our lengthy history continually reaffirm that remedies and progress arise in cultural restoration and its resulting transformative change, which is first manifested with the individual’s resultant commitment to Struggle for self-determination, and to sacrifice, and then is further dispersed throughout our widespread community-at-large when others engage for organized collective action.

Our overall status, condition, and wellbeing will change when enough individuals, families, and communities collectively embrace, restore, and manifest cultural self-knowledge, self agency, self-initiative, and self-determination to transform their self-image by persistently engaging in focused community uplift, and by actively practicing self-healing cultural values as a productive way of life. As an example, we can all continuously participate in daily activities that empower and sustain our community’s economic base when we develop priorities to persistently patronize the black-owned newspaper, stores, restaurants, shops, contractors, businesses, and vendors.

Black History Month provides a designated time to learn about our past and honor our ancestors’ achievements, so that we can be self-motivated to actively apply cultural self knowledge in our daily activities as a year-round priority. The reason for learning history is to extract pertinent lessons from our past adversities, so that we may better engage our present and improve it. Then we can collectively apply the acquired cultural knowledge to conceive and strive towards a better future and forge it in the most ethical and effective African way. Take the initiative to seek out and learn the antiquity of our history in Africaand throughout the global diaspora, embody its vitality, and then pass on its many lessons of self-dignity, self-determination, persistent Struggle, excellence, and unparalleled achievement to our community youth, so that they will be able to build on and continue our ongoing efforts to establish infrastructure, restore and practice cultural traditions, as well as maintain community celebrations. Manifest and model self-dignity, self-value, self-love, self-worth, self-education, self-development, self-sufficiency, self-validation, and self respect by immersing our homes, businesses, schools, and grassroots community organizations in positive self-imagery which reflects our rich global history, heritage, and African culture.

Presenting, supporting, and perpetuating positive community-based programs, self-help services, cooperative economics, events, marketplaces, films, businesses, stores, festivals, and functions via Black-owned and operated media genres, are tangible activities we can all continually do to create the much-needed space to exert and reaffirm influence for dignity affirming documentaries, music, literature, and cultural artwork exhibitions that are continually needed to be self-evident to properly self-educate, as well as inspire our collective community to uplift its history and legacy of achievement.

On Tuesday – February 19th, Wednesday – February 20th, and Thursday – February 21st, a FREE “Our Story” Community Cinema will be held from 4pm to 7pm. The biographical film documentaries will occur at the Bakersfield Senior Center located at 530 4th Street, Bakersfield, California and refreshments will be provided. The “Our Story” Community Cinema is sponsored by The Sankofa Collective and the Bakersfield Senior Center and will feature the scheduled screening of:

“Ella Baker” – the story of the “Godmother of SNCC” (Feb. 19th)

“Ida B. Wells” and “Fannie Lou Hamer” – stories of grassroots organizing (Feb. 20th)

“Black Wall Street” – the story of a thriving Business Enclave (Feb. 21st)

The Black History Month event is intended to infuse our community with self-knowledge and encourage us to refocus, respect, appreciate, embody, and reaffirm our Ancestors’ relentless work, sacrifices, self-dignity, self-determination, Struggle, and achievements which paved the way for our collective progress. May we always remember, cherish, be inspired by, uplift, build on, and continue the unfinished work and courageous legacies provided by our known and unknown esteemed Ancestors!

Bakari Sanyu
Director, The Sankofa Collective
A community-based cultural education organization.
Telephone or Text: (661) 319-7611