After a journey of writing and rewriting, thinking and rethinking, I share with you a personal set of reflections around the importance of Black History Month. I’ll admit my first draft was academically interesting but not personally inviting.
I began my first draft looking at seminal historical touch-points for Black Americans and the narrative included questions such as:
- Why was slavery not addressed in the Declaration of Independence?
- In 1787 when the United States Constitution was drafted, what caused slaves to be defined as only three-fifths of a person?
- Even after the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870 allowing African-Americans to vote, why was it then that universal access to voting in the South took almost one hundred years to achieve?
- If the 1954 Supreme Court finding in Brown versus the Board of Education outlawed segregation in public schools (because schools were NOT separate and equal), why then did it take the Supreme Court rulings Brown II in 1955 and Brown III in 1987 to address continued school segregation?
- Why did it take until 1965 for a president to sign the Voting Rights Act?
In the spirit of our shared commitment to lifelong learning, I urge you to look up answers to these important questions. Dig deep beyond Wikipedia and look at the underlying social, legal, human, and political issues and reflect on like system conditions that still exist in 2021.
So as I contemplated a re-write of my message, I went to a place of personal touch points – some firsthand, others historically contextualized from where I have lived. Let me share several with you.
- In 1923, Jack Trice, the first African-American football player at my alma mater, Iowa State University, died after numerous aggressive hits during his first intercollegiate game against Minnesota. The football stadium is now named after him.
- In 1958, the year I was born, Willie Mays, perhaps the greatest baseball player ever, was denied the purchase of a house in San Francisco (my hometown) because of the covenant restrictions prohibiting “Negro ownership.”
- In 1968, when I was ten years old, I watched curbside the “riots” at San Francisco State University that ultimately led to the first Black Studies program and the hiring of more “minority” faculty.
- In 1972, I attended a busing infused, integrated high school that brought Black, Chicano/a, Fillapino/a, Chinese and white students together for real life and at times hard knock lessons in diversity and inclusion.
- In 1976 as a college freshman, during ENG 101, I was introduced to to the writings of Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) and Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) which laid the foundation for later life reading of authors such as Colson Whitehead, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Chimamanda Adichie,
- In 1994, as an adjunct faculty for Northern Arizona University teaching a history of education graduate course, I learned that in the 1950s while the schools were integrated in Yuma, there was a local school district policy that allowed a single parent to request that a Black student be removed from a public school – and in fact this did happen.
- In 2019 the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco was released. The film chronicles a young Black man’s efforts to reclaim his now gentrified home. From this film I was struck by the City’s economic prosperity leading to an adverse impact on historically Black neighborhoods.
One of the blessings of Black History Month is that it reminds us of the importance of the Black experience in all aspects of American life – unfortunately often repudiated throughout time. Diversity, equity and inclusion makes us all better humans.
I encourage you to find your own touch-points by engaging in the many and varied PVCC activities celebrating Black History Month 2021.