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.
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
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
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.|