It is a month of reflection for many around the world, those who have stayed positive and principled through the most adverse and uncertain of conditions. It is a time when peoples from all cultures and races commemorate the symbols of this progress, from Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks to Nelson Mandela. This month is known as Black History Month.
Initiated in the United States in 1926 by the “father of black history” Carter G. Woodson, it has been a source of inspiration for many ever since. The idea of positive recognition and reflection is what motivated Akyaaba Sebboat to instigate Black History Month in the UK in 1987.
This event is based upon the healthy expression of black culture and history, a demonstration of its rich contributions to society and an opportunity to collectively undergo the African process of “Sankofa”. This process encourages people to learn from the past, to seek new ways to better oneself and to embrace a positive and tolerant manner when treating others.
And this is a process we could all benefit from. This month is not intended to exclude others whom are not black or do not share their cultural tastes and history. If celebrated in the right way, it is based upon a wider and more inclusive message of common struggles and values.
Reflecting upon the Civil Rights Movement in the USA or the racism of the 60’s and 70’s towards Afro-Caribbean’s in the UK is an experience that transcends racial and cultural boundaries. It is one that expresses the values of perseverance and faith in the face of difficult times. We have all faced at a certain time in history forms of oppression or a time of restricted liberty. Thus, this month does not consist merely of celebrating the great people whom have characterised black progress but rather, a recognition that their determination in the face of adversity is one which can be related to all cultures and their historical struggles.
Understanding this power of culture and history and its effect in shaping a person’s character and outlook is the first genuine step forward in respecting and tolerating those whom differ from you. Considering this, my view on the nature of this event is that this time of reflection and unity should not be restricted to this month alone. The ultimate aim of this event should be to reach a point in time when its message, based upon Helen Keller’s view that “the highest result of education is tolerance”, will not need to rely on an annual event to provide it with moral force or legitimacy.