Black History Month has been the apogee of education and the celebration of Black heritage in the U.S. for decades. It began in 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson worked with what’s now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) to teach the history of Black Americans in the nation’s public schools.
The Black History Month that we celebrate today was first proposed by Black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969 and celebrated a year later, from January 2 to February 28, 1970. In 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial, prompting additional celebrations across the country, in educational institutions and centers of Black culture and community centers. In his U.S. Bicentennial speech, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Each American president after President Ford has issued Black History Month proclamations, while ASALH continues to promote the study of Black history all year long.
Why Black History Month is Imperative
Initially, the goal of Black History Month was to incorporate the teaching of Black history and culture in American schools to ensure that the stories and contributions of Black people and African Americans were not forgotten. As the years progressed, it has become a robust celebration of creators, leaders, innovators, activists, families, and community. Today, Black History Month is celebrated in other countries besides the U.S. and highlights the achievements and activism of Black people and leaders everywhere.
Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian Institution said at the opening of the Washington DC’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016, “There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering.”
Following in the footsteps of Woodson, ASALH designates a theme for each year’s celebration of Black History Month. In 2022, the theme being Black Health and Wellness, having followed themes such as 2021’s The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity; 2020’s African Americans and the Vote, 2019’s Black Migrations; and many more dating as far back as 1928’s Civilization: A World Achievement. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have contributed to be and stay well.
Uplifting Communities and Bridging the Gaps
In celebration of this year’s theme of Black Health and Wellness, we’re pleased to highlight Black creators who are giving back to their communities.
Anthony and Janique Edwards: Created EatOkra
Anthony and Janique Edwards are two Brooklyn-based web creators who started the platform, EatOkra. EatOkra’s mission is to support a vibrant community of consumers and business owners that honors and preserves the culinary heritage and history of the African diaspora. Their website and app contain a national database with over 9,500 listings servicing 350,000 people.
Anthony and Janique founded their business in 2016 to create digital spaces that inspire the larger community and Black business-owners and their business has seen tremendous growth. Through their five pillars–reverence, fellowship, support, celebration, and convenience–EatOkra vows to honor culinary heritage and history for the African diaspora; cultivate a community rooted in a shared love for Black food and businesses; uplift Black businesses owners and future trailblazers; celebrate food as a centerpiece of Black joy; and provide comfort to Black communities nationwide.
Megan Thee Stallion: American Rapper
Megan Thee Stallion is an American rapper from Houston, Texas. Throughout her career, she has received numerous accolades, including six BET Awards, five BET Hip Hop Awards, four American Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, a Billboard Women in Music Award, and three Grammy Awards.
At the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, she became the second female rapper to win Best New Artist, after Lauryn Hill in 1999. In 2020, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world on its annual list. In 2021, she graduated from Texas Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in health administration. Following graduation, she was honored with the 18th Congressional District of Texas Hero Award by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee for her Philanthropy Efforts in Houston.
Megan has used her platform and status to make substantial charitable efforts on behalf of her community, including donating over $10,000 to Bail Relief Effort for Houston Protestors; donating the proceeds of $2.5 million collected from her and Beyonce’s Savage (Remix) to Bread of Life, which helps local Houston communities with Covid-19 Relief Efforts; partnering with Amazon Music’s Rap Rotation to launch the “Don’t Stop” Scholarship Fund, which awarded two Women of Color pursuing an associate, bachelor or postgraduate degree in any field with $10,000 scholarships; and much more.
As stated in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2019, now that she’s graduated, she is planning to open an assisted-living facility where recent college graduates will be able to work and gain necessary experience to advance their careers. Megan has said she wants Historically Black College or University (HBCU) women to know they will be welcomed with open arms when she launches her business.
Sara Trail: Author and Founder of SJSA
Sara Trail is an author, pattern and fabric designer, and sewing teacher. She founded Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA) in 2017 after graduating from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. SJSA is a non-profit organization that aims to empower individuals to utilize textile art for personal transformation, community cohesion, and to begin the journey toward becoming an agent of social change. The projects fostered through SJSA bridge the differences between age, race, and socioeconomic status to facilitate conversations about and encourage action toward social justice issues in households across the country.
While attending UC Berkeley, her passion for social justice and fabric design collided: “No one spoke about Trayvon’s death, the protests, or the acquittal of his murderer and I felt like I needed to do something to change that. The “Rest In Power, Trayvon” quilt is the first time I mixed my passion for quilting with social justice art, a mix that has made the Social Justice Sewing Academy what it is today.”
Virgil Abloh: Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur
Virgil Abloh was an American fashion designer and entrepreneur who recently passed away in November 2021. The impact of his passing was felt deeply through communities, as he represented hopes and dreams for many aspiring black creators. He was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection beginning in 2018 and, in 2013, founded his fashion label, Off-White. He was the first African American to become the artistic director at a French luxury fashion house and was later named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.
In 2020, he established the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund. Abloh raised $1 million for the scholarships, managed by the Fashion Scholarship Fund, which will assist Black students. Also, that same year, he worked with Nike to finish the redesign and renovations of the Boys and Girls Club facility in East Garfield Park, Chicago. Abloh dedicated a significant amount of his time to mentoring and providing mentoring resources to young designers.
In 2018, Virgil told GQ: “I now have a platform to change the industry…We’re designers, so we can start a trend, we can highlight issues, we can make a lot of people focus on something or we can cause a lot of people to focus on ourselves…I’m not interested in (the latter). I’m interested in using my platform as one of a very small group of African American males to design a house, to sort of show people in a poetic way.”
Pharrell Williams: American Rapper, Recorder, and Singer/Songwriter
Pharrell Williams is an American rapper, record producer, singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. He grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Pharrell has been widely referred to as one of the most influential and successful music producers of the 21st century, having had a significant impact on the sound of modern popular music. He has won 13 Grammy Awards, including three for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical (one as a member of the Neptunes).
He is also a two-time Academy Award nominee: in 2014 for Best Original Song, for “Happy” (from Despicable Me 2); and in 2017 for Best Picture, as a producer of Hidden Figures. In March 2019, Williams and the city of Virginia Beach announced the launch of a three-day music and cultural festival titled Something in the Water, to be held during College Beach Weekend, April 26–28, on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The festival’s mission was to unite the community and celebrate the diversity and magic of Virginia Beach. College Beach Weekend was a time for celebrating HBCU outings, but typically held negative connotations within the Virginia Beach community due to occasional violence and other factors.
In an attempt to redefine College Beach Weekend and to bring cohesiveness and wealth to the area, Pharrell created Something in the Water. This music festival had an incredible line-up of top musical artists and brought great profit to the city and local businesses surrounding it. The festival ended up being a complete hit for the community and a well-remembered time for many who lived in the area. Pharrell is actively engaged in the Virginia Beach community whether it be to bring business or address challenges faced in the community, such as fighting against racial disparities.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate and amplify those who have contributed to a long history and a rich, diverse culture. While the celebration of Black history is not confined to just February, this month of observance is rooted in a deep history of activism, sharing of stories, and a celebration of heritage and is simply a starting point of representing the beauty of Black culture in American history as a whole, which would not be what it is today without the endless and beautiful contributions from Black culture.
As noted by New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, “We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.”
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