Updated: May 30
Throughout February, Black History Month will be taking place in the United States and Canada. This is an annual celebration of the achievements made by African and Caribbean cultures in the past and the present - while also looking to address issues surrounding racism and discrimination to pave the path towards a more tolerant and peaceful future.
Black History Month is also observed in several nations throughout various months. For the UK and Ireland, this would be in October.
History of Black History Month
Black History Month (or National African American History Month) is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time to recognise their central role in U.S. history. It was first proposed by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans as Negro History Week in 1926, with its purpose being to focus attention on America's rich cultural heritage that goes beyond slavery and civil rights struggles. In 1976, it was expanded into the current form of Black History Month.
Black History Month is a noteworthy time for all of us; not just because we get to learn more about our shared history but because it’s an opportunity for us all—regardless of race—to come together in celebration and appreciation of the accomplishments made by African Americans and African Caribbeans throughout history, as it's an opportunity for all of us to share our own stories.
As the theme for this year is "Black Innovation", let us delve into the stories of two innovators that strived for change...
Rosa Parks [1913 – 2005]
Known as "the mother of the freedom movement", Rosa Parks was ordered to vacate a row of four seats (back when buses had "coloured" sections based on skin colour) for a White passenger, even though the White section was already full.
While Rosa was not the first to resist bus segregation, she caught the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) as the best candidate to put forward during a court challenge for civil disobedience. She also collaborated with other famous civil rights leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Edgar Nixon which lead to further boycotts of the Montgomery bus service for 13 months. This ultimately concluded with the US Supreme Court ruling that this type of segregation is "unconstitutional" under the 14th amendment.
Maya Angelou [1951 – 2014]
Originally named Marguerite Annie Johnson, she took on the name Maya Angelou by combining the nickname given by her older brother with the name of a Greek sailor she married.
Maya had several careers: the most notable being a poet and a singer. But despite all these careers, she only had her eyes set on change. Overcoming childhood trauma and racism, she became known as a writer who:
Wrote several successful poems, such as "Still I Rise"
Authored over 30 books, including her biography "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings"
Received more than 50 honorary degrees
But among these careers, she also served as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and also the first script by a black woman to be made into a Hollywood movie.
Discussion points for Equality and Diversity
What positive characteristics do we attribute to race?
When were you first aware of your race?
How has race affected your life, so far?
Do you have a person of colour that inspires you?