February 4, 2008

Celebrating Black History Month

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Black History Month means different things to different people.  For some, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the rich cultural traditions and contributions of African-Americans to the development and success of our great nation.  Some use the month as a time to step back and put our own local struggles in the context of a greater battle for justice and equality, worldwide.  And yet others will certainly be reminded of just how much work remains to be done in the efforts to forge relationships built on mutual respect and acceptance.

Black History Month encompasses all these things, but certainly is capable of so much more.  As a nation, we cannot stop at reflection.  We have to use our memories of past injustice and enact behavioral benchmarks that we constantly work to achieve. It is not enough to lament historical inequality when, today, equality is not completely a reality.  It is not enough to condemn the injustices of the past when, today, we allow disparities in education, housing, healthcare, employment and our justice system to fester.    

We know—just as Fredrick Douglass knew, Booker T. Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew—that justice and equality won’t come without sacrifice. In thinking about what is required, we must all decide what we are willing to do or identify areas where we can make changes.  No matter how large or small a gesture, we must agree to do something!

As many of us celebrate this time, I encourage you to review your deeds and thoughts.  In your conversations, friendships, and relationships, how have you chosen to honor the ideals of this important month.  In the efforts to make African-American history a year long conversation, integrated in our text books, central to our discussions, and expressed in our values, we must constantly ask and evaluate what we have done.

As we move these conversations forward, are we yet able to think about issues abroad: Darfur, the Congo, Pakistan and Koreas.  Understanding how difficult it is to concern ourselves with the plight of others when we are struggling for our own existence, we must be able to multi-task when it comes to achieving justice and equality for all.  If we can’t, we’ll look up from our own lives to find the rest of the world in chaos.  

As we move forward with our celebrations, enjoying the gains of our past and defining the goals for our future, we must continue to fight for what our ancestors knew all too well.  We cannot move forward as a society, whether locally, nationally or internationally, while consciously or unwittingly choosing to leave others behind.  The great leaders in black history knew that and they embraced that responsibility.  Only following their lead can we truly honor the spirit of Black History Month.