- MOsely WOtta Photo by Christian Heeb
Take a moment to walk around your house. Look through the books on the bookshelves, take a peek in your pantry, and peruse the music and movies saved in your home entertainment system. How many cultures are represented in your household?
Step back and expand your perspective. Consider all of the environments where your children spend most of their time. What you are likely to notice is a lack of cultural diversity in their surroundings. This February, Black History Month gives your family the opportunity to learn about the great African American pioneers and the historical events in black history that shaped our country, while also presenting a variety of ways to bring diversify to your children's daily lives.
What is Black History Month?
Carter G. Woodson—an African American historian and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History—created Negro History Week in 1926. In 1976 it became a month-long celebration held in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
When asked about the significance of Black History Month, Jason Graham (AKA MOsely WOtta), a Central Oregon-based American visual artist, performer, educator, speaker and hip-hop producer, says that Black History Month is about exploration. "It isn't about guilt or blame. It is about being fascinated with the diversity of the human experience." As a person of color who has spent most of his time living in white culture, Graham says, "My work focuses on trying to see the themes in the struggle so that we don't feel alone in the struggle."
While Graham sees the benefits of having a month to celebrate black history, he believes it should be seen as a starting point for exploration that should continue into March, April and beyond. "I see the value in (Black History Month), just don't let it stop there because it didn't start there," says Graham.
Honoring Black History with Your Kids
While your kids will be learning about some of the great African American leaders at school throughout February, the month gives parents the opportunity to look past the obvious and dive deep into the culture and look at lesser-known historical figures. Graham suggests, "Go beyond what you're expected to do. Stop being a C student. Go ahead and get into something that isn't being served up so readily." Historical Figures to Explore
Take some time to sit down with your kids and find out who some of the following African American activists are. One of them even lived in Bend.
Myrlie Evers-Williams: Graham suggests looking into this impressive woman's life story. An American Civil Rights Movement activist, Evers-Williams worked for over three decades to seek justice for the murder of her civil rights activist husband, Medgar Evers. She became the chairwoman of the NAACP and authored several books on topics related to civil rights. Fun facts about this amazing woman include: she delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of Barack Obama and she called Bend home for many years.
Bayard Rustin: Best known for his work as an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., Rustin was involved in pacifist groups and civil rights protests as early as the 1930s. He was also openly gay and acted as a leader in the fight for gay rights.
Katherine Dunham: Do you have a young dancer in the house? This American dancer, choreographer, author and social activist is sure to inspire. She had one of the most successful dance careers in American and European theater and is sometimes referred to as the matriarch and queen mother of black dance.
Bringing Diversity Home
The Central Oregon community is made up of a largely white population, which makes gaining access to a variety of cultures challenging. Parents can begin to introduce children to an array of cultures by exploring different foods, books, music and a variety of art forms. Graham suggests, "Explore with your arms open without the idea that you are going to know everything and dominate it."
As you discover stories, musical artists and new foods that you enjoy, bring them into your home and integrate them into your daily entertainment or weekly menu. Make them part of your family culture year-round.
The following are books to add your family's reading list:
"Ben's Trumpet" by Rachel Isadora
"Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist
Jean-Michel Basquiat" by Javaka Steptoe
"Strange Fruit, Volume 1: Uncelebrated
Narratives from Black History" by Joel Christian Gill
"I Am Loved" by Nikki Giovanni
If you have a music-loving crew, expand your playlist to include African American artists. Your family is sure to find joy in the variety of rhythms and sounds that they come across in Jazz, Gospel, Funk and the Blues. You can investigate similarly with food. Try new recipes and add the dishes you like to your regular meal rotation. Black History Month offers an opportunity to go beyond just learning about a vital part of America's history, it gives families a path towards creating a more inclusive household environment.