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By: Melanie Hadley

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Over the years, I have been asked by friends and colleagues: “Why should we celebrate Black History Month?”

Black History Month in the United States is a way to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans within our country. It was created because it was not being taught in the school system and began in the United States as a national Negro History week in 1926. After increased popularity, President Gerald Ford in 1976 extended the dates of celebration from a week to a full month on a federal level in the United States. In 1995, Canada recognized and began celebrating Black History Month, following the initiative of the Honorable Jean Augustine, Canada’s first black Member of Parliament.

Many have shared that they are nervous to delve into the intimate details of Black History as there are some dark truths around slavery and the pursuit of equitable civil rights for blacks.

However, Black History is so much more.

Black History is inspirational. It’s a reflection of perseverance, high intellect, collaboration, creativity, continuous love for others even in the darkest of times and an achievement of excellence.

 

That’s something to celebrate!

Black History Month gives each of us an opportunity to learn, share and self-reflect on how we interact with each other in the world. There are multiple ways to learn the history of blacks through reading, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts and visiting museums.

Over the last 20+ years it has become a practice within our family to visit Black History museums whenever we traveled to various cities. In 2019, my family and I visited the Smithsonian African American Museum in Washington, DC where we had the opportunity to view, interact and fully embody the African American journey.

The museum experience begins from 1619 and walks the visitor through every hardship, achievement, and contribution of African Americans to present day events.

At the time of our museum visit our youngest son was 13 years old. I was a bit worried that the museum might be overwhelming emotionally and daunting due to the expansive number of artifacts and displays. However, the high level of interaction each display offered kept us all very engaged and inspired lots of conversation.

For example, we were able to sit at the counter of a recreated diner from the 1960s. While sitting at the counter we were able to “order up” and view a number of videos that walked through the experience of blacks fighting for their rights to drink from the same fountain and sit at the same counter as others during the civil rights movement. Shockingly, my son sat at the lunch counter for 30 minutes asking questions and fully immersing himself within the experience. I answered and watched him move through an array of emotions, from anger and sadness to joy and hope, and ultimately to sheer determination.

By the time we finished our journey through history, my son was transformed.

 

Upon completion of our museum day, we sat and reflected on our feelings. I was especially curious to uncover how our experience may have changed our view about the world. I was pleased to hear that my son’s pride for who he is and where he came from grew tremendously from the experience.

He was able to articulate a desire to continue the path of greatness of his forefathers and foremothers by working hard in school and determined to make a difference within the world. I can proudly say, two years later he has continued the path of excellence in school and embraces everyone he meets. It truly was a transformative experience.

A shared history, a shared experience.

 

The artifacts and interactive displays at the National Smithsonian African History Museum not only educate viewers about Black History, but also show us our shared American History. Learning Black History can inspire each of us as we share in the triumphs and accolades of African Americans even during hardships. Black History is embedded in the fabric of the world.

It is imperative to teach our children how Black History affected us in the past and how it continues to affects each of us now. It should hopefully also allow us to have more respect, grace and humility in how we interact with one another and how we function in our daily lives.

Take a virtual tour!

 

Check out these links for more information on the National Smithsonian African History Museum:

C-Spann Virtual Tour of National Smithsonian African History Museum click here.

To learn more about the Museum click here.

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