Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month

Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month.  Each year U.S. residents set aside a few weeks to focus their historical hindsight on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country.  While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.

The History of Black History Month

First, let’s briefly recount the advent of Black History Month.  Also called African American History Month, this event originally began as Negro History Week in 1926. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, is credited with the creation of Negro History Week.

In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month.  He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Objections to Black History Month

Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races.  Some argue that it is unjust and unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group.  Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year.  Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the remaining eleven months.

Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history.  Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month.

1. Celebrating Black History Months Honors the Historic Leaders of the Black Community

I have the privilege of living in Jackson, Mississippi which is the site of many significant events in Black History.  I’ve heard Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, speak at local and state events.  It’s common to see James Meredith, the first African American student at Ole Miss, in local churches or at community events.

Heroes like these and many more deserve honor for the sacrifice and suffering they endured for the sake of racial equality.  Celebrating Black History Month allows us to pause and remember their stories so that we can commemorate their achievements.

2. Celebrating Black History Month Helps Us to Be Better Stewards of the Privileges We’ve Gained 

Several years spent teaching middle school students impaled me with the reality that if we don’t tell the old, old stories the next generation, and we ourselves, will forget them.  It pained me to have to explain the significance of the Harlem Renaissance and the Tuskegee Airmen to children who had never learned of such events and the men and women who took part in them.

To what would surely be the lament of many historic African American leaders, my students and so many others (including me) take for granted the rights that many people before them sweated, bled, and died to secure.   Apart from an awareness of the past we can never appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the present.

3. Celebrating Black History Month Provides an Opportunity to Highlight the Best of Black History & Culture 

All too often only the most negative aspects of African American culture and communities get highlighted.  We hear about the poverty rates, incarceration rates, and high school drop out rates.  We are inundated with images of unruly athletes and raunchy reality TV stars as paradigms of success for Black people.  And we are daily subject to unfair stereotypes and assumptions from a culture that is, in some aspects, still learning to accept us.

Black History Month provides the chance to focus on different aspects of our narrative as African Americans.  We can applaud Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S.  We can let our eyes flit across the verses of poetry Phyllis Wheatley, the first African American poet and first African American female to publish a book.  And we can groove to soulful jazz and somber blues music composed by the likes of Miles Davis and Robert Johnson.  Black History Month spurs us to seek out and lift up the best in African American accomplishments.

4. Celebrating Black History Month Creates Awareness for All People

I recall my 8th grade history textbook where little more than a page was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement.  I remember my shock as a Christian to learn about the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church because in all my years in churches and Christian schools no one had ever mentioned it.

Unfortunately it seems that, apart from intentional effort, Black history is often lost in the mists of time.  When we observe Black History Month we give citizens of all races the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which they may have little awareness.

5. Celebrating Black History Month Reminds Us All that Black History Is Our History 

It pains me to see people overlooking Black History Month because Black history—just like Latino, Asian, European, and Native American history—belongs to all of us. Black and White, men and women, young and old.  The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness.  Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.

Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month

As a believer, I see racial and ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s manifold beauty.  No single race or its culture can comprehensively display the infinite glory of God’s image, so He gave us our differences to help us appreciate His splendor from various perspectives.

God’s common and special grace even work themselves out in the providential movement of a particular race’s culture and history.  We can look back on the brightest and darkest moments of our past and see God at work.  He’s weaving an intricate tapestry of events that climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And one day Christ will return. On that day we will all look back at the history–not just of a single race but of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue–and see that our Creator had a plan all along.  He is writing a story that points to His glory, and in the new creation, His people won’t have a month set aside to remember His greatness. We’ll have all eternity.

Black KKK in Philadelphia has a message for the Church

Black KKK in Philadelphia has a message for the Church

Sixx King protesting black on black violence in Center City, Philadelphia. (Photo credit: Victor Florillo/The Philly Post)

A black man dresses in a Ku Klux Klan robe and stands on a corner in Center City, Philadelphia holding a sign? He must have been out of his mind. Actually, the man, Sixx King, was absolutely on point and this black man applauds him. King used a provocative symbolism to draw attention to the tragedy of young black males killing each other.

“We’re bringing awareness to the black hypocrisy, complacency and apathy in the African-American community,” King, 35, told the news media. His sign read that the KKK killed 3,446 blacks in 86 years, but black on black murders eclipses that number every six months. More than 7,000 blacks were killed in 2011, according the FBI.

Reaction to King has been predictable. Many agree, while others have expressed outrage. Someone reportedly suggested that he be jailed. This is the challenge when you provoke people to think differently about the root of the problem – institutional racism and how we respond.

I can hear you crying, “Throwing the race card, again? Take responsibility for your actions!” But here’s an anology to ponder:  If you put a loaf of bread inside of a warm, dark moist place, what will happen to it? You’ll get mold. It doesn’t matter if it’s white bread or brown bread. Because they are both wheat, mold will grow.

Black men murdering each other is one of the “molds” of institutional racism.  It’s not just a black problem, it’s an American problem. Carter G. Woodson wrote about this in The Mis-Education of the Negro: “If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.”

Institutional racism has been well documented and analyzed. What’s needed is a 21st century solution.  The church has the answer, but it has been hypocritical, complacent and apathic. It’s way past time that the church reawaken and lead the community.

The Bible instructs us “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Public education, the family, and the church are the institutions in America that deal most with developing the mind. Racism permeates public education, which is why it is failing black and brown children at alarming rates. Without positive family and community support or the individual inner drive to overcome institutional racism, students and their teachers succomb. The direct correlation between low academic achievement and high prison rates is not a mistake.

The church can directly influence individuals, families, and provide a counterbalance that transforms public education. The church is where slaves often learned to read. Churches set up schools for freed blacks after the Civil War. In the basement of churches is where civil rights activists trained. But with a few exceptions, the modern church, for the most part, has chosen to become irrelevant to many of our young brothers in the ‘hood. The “street mentality” (mold created by institutional racism) has filled the void.

Institutional racism, says, in part, that one group of people (particularly white males) is superior to everyone else because of skin color. It says that black people are the opposite of white, so black people are inferior, even subhuman. Native Americans, Hispanics, any non-white group is devalued. Sure, this is no longer legal and blatant, but the mindset remains pervasive throughout every institution in America, including the church. Individually, we either buy into the mindset or spend a lifetime battling to overcome it.

Across the globe, regardless of skin color, self-destructive behavior is a natural reaction to oppression. It’s as natural as mold growing on bread. Institutional racism molds how we all think. How we think triggers the decisions we make and how we act. Behavior is learned. Young black men are NOT born with a “kill each other” gene, and young white men are NOT genetically predestined for healthier and longer lives. But when you are constantly fed that your brother has no value and you digest this mindset as fact, it’s much easier to pull the trigger or turn a blind eye to his death.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who faced the real KKK, eloquently and skillfully analyzed our American problem. He spelled out solutions. Please read the letter carefully and apply it. Like brother King’s message in Philadelphias MLK’s letter challenged the church to BE the church of God. We are the institution with the power to transform minds. The time is now.

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For more information on this topic, visit Another View, a weekly radio program and news roundtable in Hampton Roads, Virginia.