Black History Month has special moments in various phases of my children’s lives. Now that I have teen and adult children, the stories and lessons we discuss today are different than the ones we had when they were in elementary school. In the early years, my focus was to reiterate what they were learning in school and to supplement with personal family stories and other significant moments that may have been overshadowed by the more popular and familiar Black History Month topics. Being a teacher is one of the hats we wear as moms; being cognizant of this role helps us to look at all situations – good or bad – as a learning opportunity.
Take for instance, Trayvon Martin. Although his death was a painful mark in our history, his story caught the attention of the younger generation. When they may not have related so easily to stories of slavery and civil rights, they can relate to a 17-year-old in a hoodie who liked Skittles and sweet tea. Trayvon resonated with his younger generation, and brought to light issues of discrimination, racial profiling and the power of petitioning and protesting. His tragic death empowered the younger generation with awareness and a unified voice.
There are other current and positive stories that my children can relate to: peers who attend university in their teens, youth who fight for justice by utilizing their social media platforms, young people who are creative in the arts or technology, Olympic athletes who travel with tutors, and the everyday kids who are extraordinary examples in their homes and communities.
It’s a culmination of these examples that make who we are as a people. Presenting our collective strength to our children is vital. It gives them balance in a world that celebrates controversy. Black History Month is a matter of identifying who you are, by recognizing who and where you came from. It’s celebrating the collective wisdom of our past and applying pieces of it today for an improved future. With this understanding in mind, our youth can better value the sacrifices made for them: voting rights, education, small business loans, real estate and opportunities to advance. They can appreciate that their grandparents marched for civil rights, and just a few more generations back, some witnessed being freed from slavery. I wonder if our great, great grandparents imagined a Black First Family living in the White House that was built, in part, by slaves. I wonder if they ever dreamed about us.
If they did, are we living up to the dream of our ancestors? We may not know their exact words, but we can garner insight from cultural identifiers that were left behind. I attended a historically black college for my undergraduate studies, Bethune-Cookman University. For my senior thesis in speech communication, I presented an analysis of Negro Spirituals as cultural artifacts. Culture and faith are threads that run through our history, weaving a tapestry that shows the story of Black history in America. We utilized the pulpit of the church to lead congregations in songs of unity, to share compelling sermons on equality and peaceful protest, to empower families to build communities that are loving and supportive of one another. In Negro Spirituals, we hear the melodic voice of Mahalia Jackson or the instructional lyrics of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” or “Wade in the Water.” There’s no doubt in my mind that their prayers and works of faith paved the way. Their legacy of faith, during unbearable conditions, cannot be overlooked.
Sharing these insights with my children as we celebrate Black History Month is an amazing bonding moment. It’s the opportunity to share an oral history, both passed down and taught, to continue the weaving process of intersecting faith and culture. We lovingly take time out of our hectic schedules to honor those who made a way for us to be where we are today. It helps us reflect on the mark we can make by being our very best – sharpening our gifts and talents, and being a voice for the voiceless. Let’s continue to empower our children to add their colorful story to the tapestry of Black history by continuing to live by faith with a sense of cultural heritage and social responsibility.
Chinua Joi Ivey, MA is a former foster child who believes that Incredible Resilience and Inner Strength (IRIS) is what helped propel her to live in the Cycle of Hope. She is the author of the IRIS Book Series and a national speaker, raising awareness of Intimate Partner and Teen Dating Violence. Residing in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and beautiful blended family (two in college), they enjoy family meals, hiking local trails and movies. Learn more at Amazon Books, mycycleofhope.com, or on Facebook and Instagram @mycycleofhope.