Black History Month carries a wide range of meanings for people all over the country in part due to one’s background, upbringing, culture, values, and skin color, there is a wide variety and extent to how Black History Month is observed.
Black culture and Black history are not a monolith. Like any holiday, tradition, or ceremony, there is no single objective or “correct” way to observe the month. Black culture is diverse, and the history is long. Instead, what is important about Black History Month is about hearing from black perspectives, especially for those who are unfamiliar with them.
Black History Month is more than just hearing black voices, and particularly their history, but “it’s a time for celebration as much as it’s a time to educate ourselves,” said Mary Mbuthia, vice president of NDSU’s Black Student Association.
“This is especially a wonderful time because since my siblings and I moved to America at such an early age, this helps us feel connected to our culture,” she added. “There are many exciting ways to celebrate black culture and history that go beyond reading about it in a non-fiction book. “My family’s favorite way to celebrate this month is through food! My mom will teach my siblings and I a traditional recipe every week, and my dad likes to teach us new poems/songs in Kikuyu.”
“Each year we get to reflect during February and consider our progress, or lack thereof,” said Kayla Jones, former Black Student Associate president and current North Dakota Human Rights Coalition project manager. Adding “our history serves as a reminder of how we got to be where we are but also as a reminder of our strength and resilience. That simply will never stop for black people, and we should always acknowledge and celebrate where we are.
She sees the significance of the month “as something that is symbolic of the events that black people have gone through and are actively fighting against.” And, “I think it represents our progress as black people each year and it celebrates that.”
One common misconception is “that it is solely a time for celebration.” Jones added, “while celebration is important and black joy should always be a priority, we must educate ourselves and learn why we even have Black History Month. For a lot of black people, this is also a time of mourning.”
“It is a time for reflection, healing, knowledge and celebration.” Adding, “acknowledging black history month helps keep our history alive.” Emphasizing, “to recognize Black History Month is to recognize the injustices black people have historically and presently dealt with.”
Although Black History Month centers on black people, Jones said, “It also allows for those who do not identify as black to acknowledge the treatment of black people historically and presently” and “allows for non-black individuals to remind themselves of their privilege.”
Despite the past and present injustices, Jones emphasized that “celebrating Black History Month alongside black people allows for unity, allyship and progress.”
One impactful way in which both black culture and history are celebrated and educated is through community events. The NDSU Black Student Association, along with other organizations in the area, hosts multiple events throughout February.
Whether it is celebrating, healing, or mourning, group events make it special. “This month has been filled with so much love and happiness… it is amazing to see everyone come together and just enjoy one another’s company,” Mbuthia said.
“I’ve also learned so much through my peers this month.” She added, “a common Black Student Association meeting usually involves some sort of discussion questions. Although sometimes it’s difficult to have those uncomfortable conversations on certain topics, it shows great strength to be able to be vulnerable and listen to one another.”
Reflecting on how she personally has been affected by the celebration of black history, Jones said, “I want to celebrate black excellence each and every day. However, the unifying feeling of black people from all over collectively celebrating who we are as people is an incredible feeling. It is a good reminder that our community is a strong one. I often did not get the chance to celebrate my blackness in public ways growing up, so having black history month helped my voice grow and also helped me find comfort in my skin.”
Whether it is through food or discussions, with friends or family, Black History Month is seen as a time to recognize and celebrate the legacy and presence of black individuals and community. While additionally educating and progressing beyond past and present mistreatments.