Room for All – Black History and Valentine’s

Photo by Giodi Miessi from Unsplash.com.

Our family has begun having intergenerational zoom discussions about justice and equity. We cross-pollinate with in-laws and cousins from our partners’ families which makes the conversations particularly rich. My wife’s niece talked about the struggles a mid-west art museum was having as it tried to become more relevant to the whole community, not just its traditional white audience. “It reminds me of churches with the ubiquitous ‘all are welcome’ on the sign out front. Most people ignore the sign. What if it said ‘This place was built for you?’”

February is both Black History Month and gives us Valentine’s Day. Some see it as love month; others as a celebration of Black history and culture. Might it be both?

Black History Month was started in 1970 by students at Kent State University. Over the past 50 years, attention to Black History Month has waxed and waned. Some white people see it as a month to be recognized and celebrated primarily by Black people. Clearly, it is a celebration and learning opportunity for all of us who want to see a fundamental shift toward equality in our country.

An early high point in recognition of Black History Month was the bicentennial in 1976 when President Ford gave a shout out to its importance. More recently in 2020, another inflection point arrived when the Wall Street Journal and Forbes acknowledged its importance and major corporations began organizing their own Black History Month events.

Valentine’s Day, depending on whom you believe, began in the third century when two guys named Valentine were martyred and became saints in the Catholic Church or in the 400’s as a push back against an attack on marriage.

Valentine’s Day reminds us to pay attention to our closest, most intimate relationships. With much commercial help, we are reminded to cherish those we love. But true close relationships require taking the risk of letting the other person really know us. They require seeing and accepting our own and others’ imperfections and loving them even when it is uncomfortable or challenging.

Might Black History Month be inviting us to do the same thing as Valentine’s Day does?  Can it be that it invites us all to learn about the amazing accomplishments and deep beauty of people of African descent in America? Can we also learn what we weren’t taught about the consistent and outrageous discrimination and violence perpetrated against people because of the color of their skin?

To achieve unity and a more perfect union in our families and our country, this time in our history invites us to connect Black History Month and deep love that goes beyond the sentimental love expressed in greeting cards.

How can each of us wake up to the gifts offered in Black History Month celebrations all around us? How can we reflect on love as an action that gives unconditional acceptance to all?  We have no magical road to more unity and equity. Instead, small decisions and actions each day will bring us closer to that aspiration. What actions are you considering this February? The following award-winning poem by a high school student shared by a friend might give you some clues.

To Rebuild

Hallie Knight

The house was built,  
Brick by brick, pane by pane,  
Initially withstanding winds,  
The force of a hurricane. 

But over time, the faults are found  
As storm after storm  
Assails, the craftsmanship outdated,  
In need of reform. 

The windows break, one by one,  
Under the weight of wrongs, the structure strains, 
Until one day fire catches,  
And only the foundation of good intentions remains.  

While easiest would be to walk,  
To abandon, moving on to rebuild,  
The value is seen by those who have called it 
Home, desires to be fulfilled.  

Remembering the mistakes,  
Maintaining the hope of freedom,  
Hand in hand, we work,  
Entering a new season.  

The work is not complete until  
The walls protect all who live there,  
No exceptions. Abandonment of all  
Unnecessary despair.  

A job led by all, not by one,  
We work long days turn long nights.  
The creation of our hands  
Proving more than surface level acknowledgment of rights.  

The past is not buried  
But underlies 
What we have transformed  
Before our eyes.

Copyright © 2021 by Hallie Knight. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 23, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets. Hallie Knight is a high school senior from Jacksonville, Florida. Her poem “To Rebuild” was the winner of the 2021 Inaugural Poem Contest for Students.

Tom AdamsAbout Tom Adams

Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.

8 Comments

  1. Evangelyn

    Thank you Tom for this loving thoughtful reflection on these two important remembrances in February. I love your neice’s thought of having the sign say “ you belong here” rather than you are welcome.
    Some of our family members are planning a “ learn about your ancestors evening” this month. During our Kwanzaa celebration last month some of the younger people expressed an interest in knowing more about their “ roots”. I thank God that I was raised in a family where family was very important and My parents, especially my father passed down stories about his grandparents, parents ,siblings,etc.
    I certainly could have done a better job of continuing this traditional.
    Giving myself a break I think about how different times were when I was brought up. There were not nearly as many worldly and Technological distractions and more family time. I really appreciate your topic and the inspiration to look within myself.

    Reply
    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Evangelyn, so glad to be reminded of staying connected to our children and grandchildren and sharing our journey. They get to make their own choices and we need each other to know we are loved and connected along life’s journey. Be well, Tom

      Reply
  2. Greg Cantori

    Thanks for the thoughtful post Tom. After years of thought and learning the book Color of Law pointed me to the realization that Single Family Zoning remains as our big white elephant. Will those who espouse racial equity be willing to dismantle the their own walls of suburbia?

    Reply
    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Greg, I found Not in My Neighborhood about our favorite city Baltimore as painful. Amazing how I did housing and neighborhood development work oblivious to the long history of racism driving policy. Thanks for reminding us all of the power of zoning. A lot of things started with private property! Peace, Tom

      Reply
  3. P L Kyler

    Tom- Here is a poem you may not know. Langston Hughes wrote in the 20’s
    Let America Be America Again
    Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

    Let America be America again.
    Let it be the dream it used to be.
    Let it be the pioneer on the plain
    Seeking a home where he himself is free.
    (America never was America to me.)
    Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
    Let it be that great strong land of love
    Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
    That any man be crushed by one above.
    (It never was America to me.)
    O, let my land be a land where Liberty
    Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
    But opportunity is real, and life is free,
    Equality is in the air we breathe.
    (There’s never been equality for me,
    Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
    Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
    And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
    I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
    I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
    I am the red man driven from the land,
    I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
    And finding only the same old stupid plan
    Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
    I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
    Tangled in that ancient endless chain
    Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
    Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
    Of work the men! Of take the pay!
    Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
    I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
    I am the worker sold to the machine.
    I am the Negro, servant to you all.
    I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
    Hungry yet today despite the dream.
    Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
    I am the man who never got ahead,
    The poorest worker bartered through the years.
    Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
    In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
    Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
    That even yet its mighty daring sings
    In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
    That’s made America the land it has become.
    O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
    In search of what I meant to be my home—
    For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
    And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
    And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
    To build a “homeland of the free.”
    The free?
    Who said the free? Not me?
    Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
    The millions shot down when we strike?
    The millions who have nothing for our pay?
    For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
    And all the songs we’ve sung
    And all the hopes we’ve held
    And all the flags we’ve hung,
    The millions who have nothing for our pay—
    Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
    O, let America be America again—
    The land that never has been yet—
    And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
    The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
    Who made America,
    Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
    Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
    Must bring back our mighty dream again.
    Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
    The steel of freedom does not stain.
    From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
    We must take back our land again,
    America!
    O, yes,
    I say it plain,
    America never was America to me,
    And yet I swear this oath—
    America will be!
    Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
    The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
    We, the people, must redeem
    The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
    The mountains and the endless plain—
    All, all the stretch of these great green states—
    And make America again!
    https://poets.org/poem/let-america-be-america-again

    Reply
    • Tom Adams

      Wow, Penny, thanks so much for sharing Langston Hughes poem Let America Be America Again. It is painful to realize for how long voices of prophets like Langston Hughes have called out that America was in default – not fulfilling its aspirations or getting anywhere close. Expanding the white people willing to care that America isn’t working is a tall order. We need all voices to move towards the dream. Thanks for adding yours through this powerful poem. Great to hear from you, Tom

      Reply
  4. sally mac

    I had tried to comment earlier this week, yet the site didn’t recognize my email.
    I’m glad I had the opportunity to read more entries in the meantime.
    I wanted to highlight the inspiration coming from Amanda Gorman last month. Her
    smile is as warm as her lemon colored coat.
    It warms my heart to recognize the next generation of peacemakers!

    Reply
    • Tom Adams

      Hi Sally, Thanks for persisting. Let me know if technical issues persist. Yes Amanda Gorman’s smile combined with powerful words of truth and hope are inspiring. May we all find ways to have open hearts as we work for justice and more love in the world. Tom

      Reply

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