How to Celebrate Black History Month

Create a black business expo, offer research sessions that explore and access genealogy and heritage records, or conduct workshops on being an ally in a racist space. These are just a few examples of activities that can be planned for Black History Month in February 2020 that can add some originality and freshness to the stream of film festivals, tours, trivia nights, banquets, and alumni panels that are frequently scheduled during the month. What follows are some ideas and opportunities to celebrate the month in a unique way. 

  • The Green BookIs there an anniversary to recognize in 2020? In February students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison recognized the 50th anniversary of the black student strike at the campus that lasted from November 1968 until March 1969. Thousands of white allies joined black students in boycotting classes, blocking entrances, marching to the state Capitol, and other actions until administrators agreed to 13 demands made by African American students. 
  • Scour and then put to use assets provided through a Library of Congress web portal that each year pays tribute to African American History Month. Earlier this year it offered virtual symposia, podcasts, videos, and nearly 50 digitized documents related to its collection about Omar Ibn Said, a writer and Islamic scholar educated in Senegal who was enslaved and transported to the United States in 1807.  
  • The Association for the Study of African American Life and History will pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship. Next year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment (giving white women the right to vote) and the sesquicentennial of the 15th Amendment (men of color the right to vote), hence the theme, “African Americans and the Vote.” 
  • Recreate a black family’s journey using the Green Book, the travel guide first published in 1936 by Harlem-based postal carrier Victor Hugo Green. The guide covered hotels and restaurants across the country that were safe places for blacks to eat and sleep, along with a list of Sundown Towns, municipalities that banned people of color after dark. The New York Public Library provides full-page access to digitized editions ranging from 1937 to 1967 (digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-green-book). 
  • Listen to it, learn it, then sing it. “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the Black National Anthem, was written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1899, and set to music written by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. First performed as a poem celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Beyoncé has performed it at Coachella Music Festival and it was played on the carillon at the University of Florida as white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke there in 2017. 
  • Host a “Being Black and …. ” series of events that allow students to explore that while being black may be one thing in common, there are other identities that influence the why, what, who, when, where, and how of what we are. Being Black and Undocumented, Being Black and Gender Non-Binary, or Being Black and Disabled each provide different layers of experience in addition to the black experience.

Carter G. Woodson

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