By Hannah Reynolds
As the month of February closes, the celebration of Black History Month must continue.
Black History Month has been an annual celebration nationally since 1976. Originally starting as Black History Week to align with Fredrick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, it would become nationally recognized by President Gerald R Ford as support for the stretch grew. Every year since then, February is met with class projects, programs, and town events in celebration.
“Black History Month is our time to celebrate the contributions of countless Black Americans who have shaped our history,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a video alongside Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II marking the start of February.
Black History Month looked a little different this year with many museums and events closed or canceled due to the ongoing global pandemic, but Grand Rapids did not allow the celebration to be brought to a halt. With so much to celebrate, our city and the Grand Rapids Community College didn’t let COVID-19 stand in the way.
Grand Rapids held free self-led tours of downtown through informative podcasts with the use of an app one can download on your smartphone guiding you past bronze sculptures of civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Helen Claytor as well as past commissioner and Mayor Lyman Parks. Helen Claytor’s statue is located here on GRCC’s campus on Fountain St. A running tour was also offered for those wanting to burn calories as you learn about the rich history of Grand Rapids that was steered by African Americans.
Here at GRCC, the office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted an event with guest speaker Rosa Clemente who discussed intersectionality in early February. A recording of her presentation is available online. In addition to this event, GRCC posted online to social media “recognizing African American leaders and historians that have impacted the United States history … and honored various African Americans who impacted GRCC” said Jonathan Wheeler, Administrative Assistant at the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
This wide range of events and programs does not end in February.“Black history is a part of United States history,” Wheeler said. We cannot “ (limit) ourselves to thinking it’s one month.”
Individually, students can continue to appreciate, learn, and acknowledge the milestones and progress that have guided our history. At GRCC, students have the resources of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the library has a vast collection of books and articles there to be read, and with the internet at our fingertips students can start anywhere and fall into a rabbit hole of learning.
Learning starts with individuals. Many people find that the K-12 school curriculum tends to teach sanitized versions of history, omitting many stories. To celebrate how far we have come and to realize how much farther we need to go begins with history. To foster change, individuals need to take it upon themselves to learn more about the obstacles and setbacks people fought against and the progress that people gave their lives for.
“There is so much to Black history, you can’t fit it into one month,” said Debra Hawkins, the owner of Superior Leasing Services in Kentwood. Her business is dedicated to giving everyone safe, fair housing.
We tend to learn about the same leaders and focus on the tragedy of slavery. Although each is incredibly important, Black Americans have created many influential inventions, contributed to the developments in science, and implemented mass change, but those aren’t recognized the way they deserve.
“Black history is more than just slavery and civil rights,” Hawkins added. She advised individuals to let February be a month that recognizes the struggle and fight for civil rights while everyday people can spend time appreciating and acknowledging the history that Black Americans guided.
Because of those milestones and successes, it allowed many to carry out their dreams such as owning their own business.
A major way to bring the celebration into March is by supporting Black-owned businesses: not only in utilizing their services but advocating for them. Especially in the times of this pandemic where many businesses are struggling, students can appreciate their service and advocate for their success in turn creating this thriving community.
Forty Acre Soul Kitchen is a restaurant here in Grand Rapids owned by Darel Ross and Lewis Williams dedicated to telling the story and celebrating the contributions of Black Americans. All aspects are intentionally “geared around the celebration of black and African American culture while doing it in a way it shows Black Americans as Americans,” Ross said.
Williams and Ross are connecting culture through their soul food.
“Supporting minority-owned business is the best way you can celebrate Black history or contribute to the African American community,” Ross explained.
People like Hawkins, Ross, and many more individuals are making Black history while building on the successes of the past.
Carter G. Woodson helped to prevent the often minimization of Black American contributions back when he created “Negro History Week” in 1926. This transformed into the month-long celebration commemorating milestones and accomplishments throughout our nation’s history. With so much to celebrate, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shared a list of upcoming events in which students can participate in the coming months.
Wednesday, March 24 at 12:00 PM
Roundtable Chat with Jenna Arnold: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/roundtable-chat-with-jenna-arnold-tickets-136109315627
Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at 6:30 PM (Registration opens March 1)
An Evening with Rakim: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/rakim-diversity-lecture-series-tickets-134836667101
Students can always learn more about upcoming events through our Facebook page also: https://www.facebook.com/grandrapidscc/