February is Black History Month, a time set aside to commemorate the history and accomplishments of African Americans. But why is this so important to celebrate?
Anita Dortch says, “Knowing our past history is important in going forward.” Dortch is the former principal of Lakeside Middle School in Fort Wayne. She wants to know her history since she is of African American descent, but she feels it’s important to celebrate her culture “not just the month [of February] but every day.” Dortch serves to instill a sense of history in young people through her involvement with the Jennings Center and the Fort Wayne Debutante Cotillion.
Yet it is not just important for black people to understand black history. “Black History Month is not just for African Americans but for all Americans,” says Denita Washington. Washington is the executive director of Girls Rock and the Academic Skills Specialist at Indiana Tech. She wants society to gain “a vision of the nation and true history” through the understanding that black history is part of the American experience.
In her work with students she focuses on breaking down barriers across cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. “We operate out of what we know,” she explains. Unfortunately many people do not leave the areas they know well to enter other neighborhoods and situations they are unfamiliar with. The biggest barrier that Washington feels must be crossed is fear and the unwillingness to be uncomfortable. “Lessons come in uncomfortability,” she says. “Children are fearless. Adults instill fear.”
A great opportunity to learn these lessons is for children to learn them at school. Yet Dortch recognizes the difficulty schools have in fitting nuanced cultural history into the curriculum. “Everything is driven by tests,” she explains.
That is why sisters Clydia Early and Sherry Early-Aden, founders of the cultural engagement program Green Hair Revolution, speak of Black History Month as an opportunity. Schools can introduce the subject, and where schools are unable to go in depth into the conversation, parents and the community can continue to teach.
For white families with adopted black children, the month is an opportunity for parents to bond with their kids, showing them love by learning about their history and where they came from together. These lessons challenge the popular messages that keep barriers intact out of fear and misinformation. In her own life Washington has seen how “we can miss out on greatness if we hold back because of what the media says.”
To the complaints about there being a month set aside for black history, Early-Aden says: “If you’re only celebrating that one month, you’re only limiting yourself. We need other people to realize there’s more.” Her family supports anything the African American History Museum does and not just during February. “The same thing I do every other month, I would do in [Black History Month].” She also makes it a point to celebrate other cultures too. “I celebrate everyone’s month. If it takes that day [for people to learn and engage with the culture], then it takes that day. But it’s important…to take that time.”
This February and every day after, look for events to attend and opportunities to learn. Especially keep watch for what these female leaders are doing in the community of Fort Wayne and join them in breaking down barriers.