First Day of Black History Month: The Importance of Context

Despite what my knees and back tell me, I am still a young man.  A cursory conversation with my ninety year old Grandmother will put to rest any ideas of reaching out to AARP for the privileges that come with membership.

But while I haven’t reached geezer status, I have accumulated a fair bit of tread on the tires and I have been around the block enough times to say I got a pretty good grasp on how the last 40 years have played out in the lives of Black folk.

And to say that it has been a historic period for Black folk is to greatly understate the bittersweet nature of the time.

Black folk have made a major come up in the past forty years.

Black folk have also woke up to find themselves on the Sole end of a foot in the ass from the the very institutions that coalesced to bring about the foundation  of an America that lives up to the true meaning of its creed.

You know, that whole “All men are created equal” stuff.

1968 Marked a watershed moment in my History, and when I say  MY History I mean the history of the American People which I have always considered myself a part of.

People have the whole notion of the Whys and wherefores of Black History all screwed up.

For the cheap nickel tour of Black History month feel free to get your Wiki on, I will deal with my own history with it.

While Black History Month has been in February as long as I have been in School, I have had the unique opportunity of having History be taught to me with ME included in it throughout my life.

No one ever tried to sell me that line about Columbus discovering America.

No one ever told me that Lincoln freed the Slaves.

No one ever told me that Martin had a dream and President Johnson made it  come true.

From the door of Pre-School in the projects of Pittsburgh; from the day I was Old enough to turn the channel and see the news; from the day my mother found out that I was clearly not the average 3 year-old when I took to phonics faster than I took to the potty, I was blessed with the real story.

The Tooth Fairy put a quarter under my pillow, but My mother showed me her invisible wings that protruded out of the back she carried our household on.

I always left cookies by the tree  for Santa Claus, but I knew my mother would be the one wiping the crumbs  from her chin in the middle of the night.

I was a child in the sense that my mother allowed me to maintain my innocence organically, but when real life intruded, she let it, but not without her watchful eye.

When i was 6 my bedtime was about 8:30, but for one week in January, 1977, I stayed up and watched Roots with my mother.

There was no ongoing commentary that I am aware of, just me, a precocious boy who had more brains than sense, and his mother, a woman of intelligence that no test could measure,  in the projects of Pittsburgh, PA, watching history unfold on a screen.

Momma Ink raised me as though God told her that life was going to be like this.  She left me in public schools that white folk would NEVER send their children to and those teachers taught me a history that apparently doesn’t get taught to most children.

She never missed a chance to send me somewhere to add on to the story.

We attended a church where the Pastor had a passion for the Word and a passion for the History of his people.

I emerged into adulthood with the full story.

I may have grown up in the shadows of the last gasp of the industrial revolution, under the cloud of a neighborhood that was strangled and then devoured by the the changing times, but I understood what was happening and why.

maybe YOUR history was a tale told by the victors, but mine was told by the victims with the sweat of their labor, the blood of their Savior, and the Tears of joy in anticipation of the victory that time and diligence would bring, as surely as  it came in a different incarnation for them yeas ago.


  1. Sharon

    Did you go to Charles Sumner High School?

    I did. I went to a wonderful, public, historically black high school that carries the distinction of being the oldest, black public high school west of the mighty Mississippi River! At prior schools I attended and in this amazing place that, next to being my mother’s daughter, probably impressed the deepest imprint on who I ultimately became I was exposed to history much the same way you were. Taught English, Chemistry, Calculus, and History by brilliant black teachers who themselves learned English, Chemistry, Calculus, and History in the very same rooms at the very same desks in which I sat meant that my education itself was by definition history. Discerning their stories from inscriptions on some of those desks in which I sat and the osmotic energy of their presence combined with the horror of learning from them that people I believed to be the most intelligent on the planet (my teachers) had been barred from institutions of higher learning, pursuit of advanced degrees, jobs in some professional sectors…instilled in me a knowledge of self that the most scholarly professor of African-American studies would have been unable to match because after all, THEY WERE ME and because they were, I always knew what I could become!

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