As officers in the local NAACP, and citizens of the world, we hear the same comments every year about this time — comments that question the very idea of a month dedicated to black history.
They're usually the ramblings of people who are ignorant of history or who intentionally make such comments to create discord and division. But there are some facts about Black History Month that every American should know, and it is past time to set the record correct.
Black History Month does not exist to belittle white people or any racial or ethnic group, but to remind Americans of the important contributions of black people from the founding of this country and throughout its history to now. Black people have made history in every facet of American life. And while those accomplishments should be celebrated every day, they are often overlooked — until February.
The United States has shown that without extra effort by communities of color, demanding their stories be told, we just would not know the stories; we would not know our history, and not all of us would be able to fully participate.
Though there have been vast improvements since the 1960s in some areas of American society, we must never forget that there was a time in this country when black people were legally and systematically excluded from the very fabric of American civic life. African Americans were excluded from neighborhoods, schools, clubs, labor unions, financial networks, restaurants, the front of the bus, drinking fountains, hotels, even from expressing affection in public.
During that terrible time in history, many organizations formed to further exclude African Americans from public life. But some other organizations came about much like Black History Month itself — not to exclude but in response to being excluded.
The NAACP is such an organization.
Founded 102 years ago this month, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People continues to lead the struggle to ensure racial justice for all Americans. The NAACP was formed by a courageous group of black and white citizens, who were appalled that men, women and even children, were being lynched by angry mobs all across this country. These progressive and concerned men and women saw that people of color were missing out on the promises of equal rights in every area of life, and all of America was missing out because of that exclusion.
Today, the NAACP remains an organization for all people. After all, aren't we all people of some color? With members in all 50 states and around the globe, we are strengthened by our unity as we advocate for equity, excellence and justice.
It has been said that those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it. We are seeing this truth again today as a culturally unaware America relives segregated schools, segregated neighborhoods and a generation locked out of the political process by a new Jim Crow that finds more young black men in prisons than on college campuses.
We must know our history — our American history in its fullness — if we are ever to reverse such retrenchment in civil rights and negative trends across our land.
During Black History Month, take time to learn more about your own history and the history of others. Read about the founders of the NAACP; research the beginnings of the Black Church and Black Greek Letter organizations. Treat yourself to an evening of jazz or a meal at a soul food or ethnic restaurant; visit a historic spot and just imagine what it might have been like to live in a time long ago.
You might even want to link arms with someone who looks different from yourself, and in the tradition of the founders of the NAACP, show your unity in the public square.
It is only when we acknowledge our full history and our true diversity that America will grow wiser and stronger.
Clif Northam and Linda Dailey LeMieux are members of the executive committee of the Colorado Springs Branch NAACP.