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What Is Black History Month? And How To Celebrate It!

By our Board Director, Woodshop Educator, Outreach Mentor, and generally awesome Decatur Makers member, Char Miller-King, aka The Wooden Maven:

Around the world citizens celebrate Black History month during February. What exactly is Black History month and if you’re not Black should you celebrate it?

In 1926, the second week in February was declared Negro History Week by historian Carter G. Woodson. This week was a time designated for teachers to share the unknown and often unspoken history of African Americans. The month was in honor of the birth months of President Lincoln (who issued the Emancipation Proclamation) and Frederick Douglas (abolitionist, orator, and author). While it did take decades for this new form of education to catch on. It eventually did. First State Departments in many states became dedicated to making information available to predominately Black schools and soon churches began to do the same. During the Civil Rights Movement in 1960’s the week was expanded into a full month and later declared Black History Month a national observance in 1976, by President Ford. Before its decree to become nationally recognized most standard school age history books mentioned only two African Americans.

Many have rallied for a change of the perpetual cycle of segregation. The victory is not in winning the war, it is fighting the smaller battles we face when we encounter injustice. Despite some schools not willing teach the true history of America, all Africans were not slaves, many slaves bought their freedom and were responsible for building the infrastructure of the United States. To date several higher education universities offer degrees purely in African American studies. It is evident that significant strides have been made to include the plight, struggle, and triumphant outcome of the Black culture.

Without this knowledge being continually shared, Woodson believed that, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

This year’s Black History Month is presented with so many new aspects, following on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement that exposed systemic racism in a way that this generation has never seen. During that time, many people and organizations rushed to create an image of anti-racism and unity. Unfortunately, the fanfare quietly disappeared only to re-emerge now as a reminder that the country we live in today would not be what it is without the contributions of our Black brothers and sisters.

You may wonder what you can do to celebrate it, given the climate of our current times. If you are on social media, share your favorite Black maker with your audience or promote a locally owned Black business. This is vital as Black businesses are suffering tremendously right now due to the lack of resources available and designated for people of color. Join the conversation about Black representation, there are various panel discussions, book talks, and reenactments taking place online. Dive into a Netflix docuseries that does not sugarcoat life from a Black perspective.

Look around your home, do you have an alarm system, central heating, refrigerator, or potato chips? These were all invented by African Americans.

Who can deny the crisp, saltiness goodness of the potato chip? Chef George Crum once cooked an order of fried potatoes too long in 1853, resulting in the packaged snack we enjoy today. I could imagine one of us makers, tinkering along with the likes of NASA’s Lonnie Johnson, creating the Super Soaker, building furniture along side Henry Boyd, a Kentucky slave born in 1802, or even creating the first IBM personal computer with co-founder Mark Dean, who holds 30 patents. And here are 10 inventions that would not exist without Black Women.

Although, many nations designate this month to highlight and observe the accomplishments of African Americans. My charge to you, is to not let this month be the only time you think fondly on people of color. Black history is American history. It is our duty as citizens to celebrate the pioneers that have helped create the privileges and knowledge we freely enjoy today. No one race can exist alone, without the contributions of the other, just as a dovetail joint is no good with only the tails or simply the pins. They must equally join to create a strong, tight joint that is not easily destroyed under the extrinsic pressure of climate or location. We must stand in unity and support one another without hesitancy.

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