Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Faith and Action: Black History Month — always more to learn

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Last year I read an interesting letter to the editor from a teacher who questioned the wisdom of placing so much emphasis on Black History Month. She felt today’s history books contained enough of the history of black Americans and that promoting the month contributed to divisiveness.

Granted, we are in an age where blacks have become integrated in almost every facet of society. A black man is a viable candidate for this nation’s highest office, a black woman is secretary of state and there are numerous other achievements that make black history everyone’s history.

And we have repeatedly been told about the lives and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver.

But there is much more to be told, and Black History Month encourages us all to take that step.

While the well-known individuals will always be revered for their impact on our nation and their place in black history, it is true that many other worthy stories from the black struggle get little attention comparatively.

I challenge readers to ask their peers and children to identify black pioneers such as Louis Latimer, Frederick Jones and Mae Jemison. They are, respectively, the scientist who helped Thomas Edison develop the light bulb, the inventor responsible for refrigerated trucking and making motion pictures with sound, and the first African-American female astronaut.

These pioneers link black history to American and world history by showcasing the impact that black Americans have had on every aspect of life.

Black History Month should not only diversify its focus on those who have had an impact on the past but should also examine present leaders in the African-American community who showcase how far we have come and can go.

The spotlight shouldn’t just be on the names in the entertainment and sports arenas that everyone is already familiar with, but should focus on people such as James A. Bell, CFO at Boeing; Kenneth Chenault, CEO at American Express; and Earl G. Graves Sr., founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine.

Living black pioneers such as these can inspire the next generation of blacks to strive for top positions in fields such as business and journalism.

Black history is more than the accomplishments of Americans of African descent. It is the history of how Africans were brought to this country as slaves and the fight for freedom.

At the end of the day, the goal of Black History Month is to be inspirational, and not just to blacks, but to everyone. It is a chance to delve deeper into the contributions blacks have made that are often taken for granted the rest of the year.

The challenge is for us to recognize that racial and cultural differences are to be embraced — not merely tolerated or erased.

E-mail Linda Phelps at lphelps@gazette.net.