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Black History Month: Its Origin and Why It’s Still Relevant

In 1926, Negro History Week began due to the efforts of several prominent African Americans, including historian Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. During this week, the lives of Black people who made extraordinary contributions to society would be celebrated.

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February was chosen to host Negro History Week because it is the birth month of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two people inextricably linked to the freedom of Africans in America. Later, Negro History Week was expanded to encompass the entire month and is now called Black History Month.

Black History Month Should Also Call Attention to Other People and Organizations

Black History Month is typically observed by most public schools. But as a former K-12 teacher, my heart was broken when some of my African American students expressed their disillusionment with this celebration. They felt like they were hearing about the same characters repeatedly and not learning anything new.

After analyzing and dissecting their points of view, it became apparent to me that there is room to put a different spin on Black History Month. We can still celebrate the accomplishments of the “usual suspects” such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass, but we should also pay tribute to the organizations that supported them, as well as the people and institutions they influenced.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference: Supporting Human Rights and Racial Equality

Most people know a lot about Dr. Martin Luther King’s commitment to justice, peace, equality and non-violence. However, they may not know as much about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of which Dr. King was a member. The SCLC staged and supported many protests across the American south for desegregation and civil rights.

There are still lots of groups similar to the SCLC that you can support, such as Black Futures Lab and Until Freedom. I encourage supporting such organizations, which are doing important work to improve human rights and racial equality for people of African descent.

John Boyd and the National Black Farmers Association

George Washington Carver is another familiar personality within the landscape of African American history. His discovery of the use of peanuts as a rotating crop is still in use today.

But have you ever heard about John Boyd, Jr.? He is the President of the National Black Farmers Association, a group he founded in 1995 to fight against the discriminatory practices of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA’s denial and inequitable distribution of aid to black farmers prohibited them from maintaining and even keeping their farms in many cases. The lack of government help also impeded these farmers from employing Dr. Carver’s agricultural and scientific advancements. The National Black Farmers Association has been fighting tirelessly against these kinds of injustices, even including a lawsuit filed against the USDA.

AALIGN: An Organization That Also Provides Support to People of African Descent

One place where I have an opportunity to have inspiring conversations about African Americans and their accomplishments is in the African American Learning and Inclusion Network (AALIGN), the student organization where I serve as chapter advisor. The purpose of AALIGN is to provide support for the academic, professional and social needs for students and alumni of African descent at the university. One of the ways we accomplish our mission is through engaging in substantive discussions, and membership is open to current students, alumni, faculty and staff members.

Black History Month Is Still Relevant

Highlighting the accomplishments of African American people and organizations is just one way to celebrate Black History Month. Ultimately, I believe this event is still relevant. For me, every month is Black History Month because celebrating the efforts of people who put their lives, their livelihood and their life’s work on the line to make mine better never gets old.

Shun McGhee is a graduate of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Shun has nearly 15 years serving in education. He was an English and history teacher for 9th, 11th and 12th grade students. Later, Shun began his tenure as a Student Advisor, Career Coach, and Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison. His favorite part of working in education is assisting students to achieve and exceed their goals. Shun believes education is his life’s purpose and is passionately committed to it.

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