Nearly a century ago, scholar Carter G. Woodson began an annual celebration of Black history, announcing, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” While Woodson initially conceived of a weeklong event that coincided with the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass (already celebrated in African American communities), his true vision was a celebration of African American history, art, and culture that was not contained to prominent individuals and designated weeks, but one that recognized the breadth of individuals within the African American community and their varied triumphs and struggles.
The contributions and experiences of the African American community are not relics of history – they are the living bedrock of what we know of this country today, including its culture, economic growth, and development throughout history and across time.
The National Community Action Partnership celebrates Black History Month while recognizing that the study of African American history and celebrations of African American culture should not be confined to a single page on the calendar. Community Action Agencies care about the entire community and continuously work to ensure dignity and access to opportunity for all people.
We celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who named his campaign the Poor People’s Campaign because he knew that political and legal equality would be insufficient without economic equality. Decades later, poverty continues to disproportionately affect African American individuals and communities. A history of structural racism and discriminatory public policies has left a legacy of racial disparities in generational poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity.
We also herald Mae Jemison’s pioneering role as the first African American woman in space as we look forward to Victor Glover becoming the first person of color to walk on the moon. We honor the legacy of John Lewis as we rise for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and protest the silencing of Justin Jones in Tennessee.
Political and social struggles affecting the broader population often have a particularly harmful impact on African American individuals and communities. Current book banning efforts in states across the country are threatening to erase aspects of African American history, which is also American History, from textbooks. As the Supreme Court does away with affirmative action in higher education, an organization led by African American women is under attack for creating a grant program to support African American female entrepreneurs. Even seemingly anodyne policies like those in the tax code can perpetuate systemic disadvantages for African Americans.
As Tioga Opportunities, Inc. joins our Network of Community Action Agencies to celebrate Black History Month, we can amplify voices in our communities to raise awareness of the needs of our neighbors and create strong inclusive communities.