As a child growing up black in an all white academic environment, I realized everyone didn’t look the same or have the same experiences that I was having. I was curious to learn about the differences, but more importantly, I was first taught at home, and it was later reinforced in my school and at my church, to look for commonalities. I learned to value people for who they are and, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, to not judge people “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I learned to honor and respect people, while being able to disagree without disparaging, or disliking, them.
That being said, I don’t recall ever having a black teacher until I attended Howard University in the mid-80s. I stayed at Howard for one academic year and then went on to attend Boston College, where I did not have a teacher of color. On a daily basis, and from an academic arena, there were very few people from my ethnicity that I could look at and be inspired by, hence the importance of Black History Month to me, personally.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African-Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. President Gerald Ford recognized the importance of Black History Month during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial when he urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
The month of February is a time of immersion and re-familiarizing society with the roles African-Americans have played to make our country great. African-American history is an integral part of our nation’s tradition in which we continue to promote positive examples of poignant historical events, exemplary leaders, educators, innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, entertainers, athletes, and activists and steps towards societal change.
February is a time when our country can highlight African-Americans for who they are as a people and their journeys from enslavement to independence, because that's what mature cultures do. They evaluate to see the beauty, joys, accomplishments, and history of others who through self-determination embrace our unalienable rights – the American dream – to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As African-Americans, we use the month to itemize who we are, how far we've come, what our future holds, and the most efficient and promising routes toward our cultural destiny. This involves acknowledging our hero dynamics, ancestors, epic feats, cultural activities, and using arts and literature to reflect on our journey.
Here at Sewickley Academy, the accomplishments of African-Americans are not just celebrated during February but embedded throughout the curriculum. Nevertheless, each division has highlighted some of the endless contributions African-Americans have made in our history this month. In addition to the curricular connections that are ongoing in the U.S. history and Global Studies courses, the Senior School celebrated African-American contributions through the Taste of SA (formerly known as the International Dinner), which included contributions in food and entertainment from the African-American Culture Club as well as other cultural clubs that are reflective of our community.
In the Middle School, civics courses universally address the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and citizen and interest groups who take action, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the NAACP, Ida B. Wells, Black Panthers, Freedom Riders, Fredrick Douglas, and many others.
In the Lower School, the students study the biographies of famous African-Americans. Moreover, both the Marion Hutchins and Hansen Libraries have special Black History Month displays featuring books written and/or illustrated by African-American authors as well as books about African-Americans.
Black History Month gives credence to a group that historically has been marginalized. By celebrating or highlighting one group of people it doesn’t diminish other groups. As a black faculty member at Sewickley Academy, I value being a leader and role model in this sphere of influence. I realize that by showing up each day and giving my very best, and interacting with my peers, parents, students, and neighbors, I am able to show the community that African-Americans have a lot to be proud of, and by and large have much in common with other ethnic groups.
Click here for a list of events in honor or celebration of Black History Month in Pittsburgh.