The month of February is honored as Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in US history. According to history.com, "Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of ‘Negro History Week,’ the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans."
There are wonderful ways many of us already use to honor Black History Month within our congregations: highlighting Black American leaders within the church, reading storybooks about Black history or specifically featuring Black characters, showcasing the work of Black artists in our learning spaces, and sharing icons, videos of worship, or hymns from Black American or African congregations and traditions. We can also study the biblical stories of African faith leaders within the early church such as Tarbis, the second wife of Moses, or the Ethiopian eunuch.
As educators or active participants in ministries oriented toward the first third of life, we also know that truly transformative learning is grounded in personal connection. How can we use Black History Month to support youth and young adults in building relationships across ethnic and cultural lines, specifically among Black communities? The most accessible and one of the most impactful ways is to support and uplift the work of Black Americans in nearby communities where opportunities exist for continued engagement. Many communities have a nearby NAACP chapter or Black Sorority or Fraternity organization that will host Black History Month events. Local libraries and art and culture centers are also excellent places to seek out Black History Month events youth can attend and participate in. Partnering in interfaith or ecumenical events with majority-Black congregations is also a helpful idea.
It should be uplifted to students that Black leaders and learners should be centered in these events. It is more appropriate and authentic to attend, contribute resources, or volunteer at events created by local Black voices than to produce our own and invite Black people to speak representationally if your congregation does not have a majority Black population. Most importantly, Black History Month should be a launching pad for ongoing relationship, not a “one and done” to be revisited only on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and in February or on Juneteenth. Black History Month can be a space for your group to prayerfully choose an ongoing way to incorporate Black History throughout the year. I have visited a youth group that spent the month writing a pledge to anti-racism and recruited community businesses and organizations to sign it. Another youth group visited worship at a nearby historically Black church and their youth leaders connected for a youth choir concert the rehearsed together and shared with the community in the spring. Don’t be afraid to get creative and let Black History Month be a beginning!