Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Black History Month = Building Bridges For the Future

When February 1 rolls around every year, I have to chuckle at the clockwork-like precision with which the Black History-themed commercials and PSAs get rolled out by every network to make sure they have satisfied their "duty" to recognize the contributions that Black men and women have made to this country. While imperative to continue recognizing the contributions of all ethnic groups to the fabric of our culture, what is even more important is to promote the continued CONNECTION of youth to their cultural legacies. As I shook my head about the "missionaries" looking to "save" Haitian children by illegally taking them across the border, I couldn't help but think that we don't truly understand the value of this connection to our cultural legacies. Peep this example:

In sixth grade, my third grade teacher who was put in charge of the annual Black History Month assembly, asked me to portray Martin Luther "the" King by reading one his "Mountaintop" speech to the whole lower school. Given that the private school I attended K-8 was predominantly white, I was one of maybe five candidates for this job, and I can easily see where the skeptic says that selecting me to portray MLK could have soured me on my own identity as Black male. The counterargument being that placing the "burden" of portraying one of the most important leaders of our generation on me could have made me feel self-conscious, and isolated from my predominantly white peers. The opposite was in fact the case, as having to study the words of MLK gave me a greater understanding of the Civil Rights Movement, the man himself, and my connection to the continuring struggle for justice and equality. My outlook on being a Black male was enhanced by participating in the assembly and set a foundation to always cast off attempts to pidgeon-hole me into any type of categorical box. When we have that understanding of the richness of our past, it is then possible to branch out and make bridges with others. This is why not only is Black History month important, but also the contributions of all ethnic groups which call America home. Let each of us find ways to connect youth with a greater understanding of those who have toiled before them.

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