“Black History…now more than ever as it is an essential element and tool to connect the dots and strengthen the ties that bind Africans at home and abroad.”
Happy February aka Black History Month!? I have always met this month with the mixed emotions on a spectrum from excitement to uncertainty. Why? It seems strange to celebrate a month devoted to the achievements of African descendants in the Diaspora in Africa. Secondly, I question why these accolades for Africans are not the convention verses the exception, after all they are American and for that matter world history. Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK celebrate in October by the way. When I reflect on the premise of the month, be it February or October; I think it is a good thing to recall and recognize the contributions of Black folks, especially in the absence of a twelve-month mindset and curricula mainstreaming images and information to help generations of black girls and boys cherish their history and roots, while simultaneously, educating all on the contributions of African descendants in the Diaspora.
In the absence of institutional reforms in government education individuals, institutions, private sector and civil society can play a major role towards popularizing accomplishments of Africans in the Diaspora. In particular those in the arts from visual, literary and performance arts, the platforms are endless. Consider poetry readings from Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967; Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917-2000; James Baldwin, 1924-1987; or Maya Angelou, 1928-2014. We can also explore the works of writers Phyllis Wheatley, 1753-1784; Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960; Richard Wright, 1908-1960; or Ralph Ellison, 1914 – 1994. Then there is the art…May Howard Jackson, 1877-1931; Romare Bearden, 1911-1988; Elizabeth Catlett, 1915-2012; and still living, Faith Ringgold born in 1930. Let us not forget dance, Josephine Baker, 1906-1975; Katherine Dunham, 1909-2006; Alvin Ailey, 1931-1989; and Arthur Mitchell, 1934-2018. And in this month of the Academy Awards we recall actors extraordinaire, Hattie McDaniel, 1893-1952; Ira Aldridge, 1807-1867; Paul Robeson, 1898-1976; Dorothy Dandridge, 1922-1965. But science and technology should not be overlooked as we recognize George Washington Carver, 1864 – 1943; Lewis Howard Latimer, 1848-1928; Percy Lavon Julian, 1899-1975; James Edward West, 1931; Henry Sampson, 1934, and Dr. Patricia Bath born in 1942. For the record, the listing of influential Blacks is in the hundreds. Hopefully the avid readers and researchers in us all, hungry for facts on a people marginalized and mostly portrayed in stereotypical style, will be inspired to dig deep into this magnificent history in an effort to impact the future.
Present day, 2019 Black History Month(s) will be celebrated under the theme “Year of Return”, deemed so by Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, marking the 400th year anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arrival in the USA in 1619. Side note and for the record, this 1619 date does not negate earlier African arrivals in North America. In Addis Abeba, Kenya will propose the recognition of the 400th year anniversary of the Transatlantic Slave Trade at the African Union’s Executive Council 34th Ordinary Session, convening February 7th and 8th. According to the Concept Note proffered by the East African nation, known as a champion for Pan Africanism, “H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya, has a strong desire to ensure that Africa commemorates this anniversary and uses the year to revitalise the social, cultural and economic linkages between Africa and its diaspora bordering the Atlantic basin. H.E. President Kenyatta has agreed to be patron to R400 Consortium and its sponsorship of a major campaign to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade. He is looking forward to urging other Heads of State and Government to join him in supporting this initiative.” This is good.
If the declaration is approved by the Executive Council, namely the Heads of State and Governments on the continent, African descendants who have contributed innumerably to advance the arts, education, finance, sciences, technology and more, will be highlighted for 2019 and beyond. But will it only be on paper or will all Africans who care about history and the future of the continent, currently re-writing colonial narratives of uncivilized natives, take shape substantially through change in curricula in Africa and the Diaspora?
So to revert to any questions I or others may have towards why Black History in Africa; indeed it is appropriate, now more than ever as it is an essential element and tool to connect the dots and strengthen the ties that bind Africans at home and abroad. After all this history and achievements are the successes of all Africans, Africans abroad who against all odds including severe discrimination, dug deep into their genetic memory and found the link to the first astronomers, architects and artists who built world wonders millennia ago in their ancestral lands. May our children/youth, likewise, be supported as they are the future change agents.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.