This week marks the start of Black History Month, a time to honor the significant contributions of the Black community throughout U.S. history.
The celebration dates back to 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, but became an official commemoration in 1976, when President Gerald Ford called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Since then, school and community groups nationwide have set aside time each February (the birth months of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln) to organize special tributes in the spirit of the month.
Concordia, too, has organized a slate of commemorative events this February, which we’ll share more about next week. Before that time, however, Concordia’s Black Student Union is offering up a few other ways to kick off Black History Month.
- Learn more about Black History. With today’s technology, we are able to study and investigate vast amounts of information on African American history. Many times, this history was not taught or shared in our many years of schooling. Without this knowledge, we are limited in our true understanding of each other. Reading websites, exploring books, and enjoying podcasts are easy ways to gain new knowledge.
- Observe Black History and accomplishments all year long. This month is a special time that we pause and reflect, educating ourselves on truly special achievements. We value pioneers in black history who have paved a way with determination, grit, and intellect. Therefore, this study is not limited to one month, but forces us to honor all year long these magnificent journeys.
- Courage. It takes bravery to stretch yourself. As you learn more about others, you develop greater awareness. This awareness and knowledge presents opportunities to share. Not everyone will agree on Black History, its struggle, and its triumph. But have courage to take a stand against racist words and actions. Be fearless in focusing on fairness and justice.
- Know Yourself. Develop a consciousness. Be alert to your words, attitudes, and actions. How are your words affecting others? What is your attitude towards diversity? How can your actions boost and improve others? Continually improve yourself and let others benefit from your personal development.
- Engage in the Community. All around us are rich examples of African Americans who are making a true impact in our world. Get involved in adding value to your community by positively acting. These concrete plans can address equity, uplift a neighbor, contribute to a non-profit, or support a community mission. The goal is action.
These five important ways to recognize Black History Month spell the word LOCKE. This reminds us of Alain L. Locke, an African American Rhodes scholar and philosopher. Dr. Locke was influential in teaching and writing, encouraging many promising young people. Special attention should be given to his work regarding the Harlem Renaissance. There is even a Wisconsin connection, as Dr. Locke served as visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Alain L. Locke gives us hope, inspiration, and a desire to keep pushing for excellence.
The CUW Black Student Union is a big family. Collectively our students come from all across the country. Our individual cities may vary, but our individual experiences are similar. We understand what it took just to make it CUW. Name the barrier, Black Student Union members have overcome the barrier. It is not unusual to hear conversations about the barriers and specific strategies utilized for success. The CUW Black Student Union family doesn’t stop after graduation! One of our few requirements for graduates is to stay connected and show our younger Black student Union members what leadership looks like.
Our students are making Black History every day at CUW. We prefer to call it Black Excellence! Each week in February, we will host College Readiness sessions. This is one way of sharing our Black Excellence with high school students. We share the greatness of Concordia and explicitly outline strategies of success that can be used in high school and college.
Our students are making Black Excellence by sharing their truths. At times, sharing truths isn’t popular. The courage to share truths can have consequences. Although, those consequences are not enough to stop Black Excellence. Finally, our students make Black Excellence by using our cultural similarities and differences as teachable moments. Our Black Student Union members love sharing their culture. We take pride in changing the narrative. Happy Black History Month!
—The five suggested observations are courtesy of Steven Gerner, EdD, Center for Urban Education Ministries Executive Director/CEO and Dean of Students at Concordia University Wisconsin. Gerner has years of experience as a teacher and administrator within diverse and urban schools. At Concordia, he plays an active role with Concordia’s Black Student Union and champions matters of diversity in varied ways.
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