In 1926 Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, announced their plan to designate the second week of February "Negro History Week." Blacks living in America, having survived the horrors of slavery and endured inhumane treatment post-emancipation, had no roots to their African homelands. Woodson contended that if Black history was not properly acknowledged America's future generations would be in tremendous jeopardy.
The annual month long celebration of African American history informally began in the 1960s at the urging of Kent State University's Black United Student organization and was eventually recognized by the U.S. government in 1976. As a child I was apart of the 1980's and 90s enthusiasm that swept through elementary and high schools everywhere. African kente cloth prints inspired fashion. The lives of King, Parks, X, Tubman, Douglass informed special assemblies, poetry, HBCU apparel and cultural anthems. Communities celebrated pride in blackness year-round, but with extra vigor in February. But, as time has passed, the reverent regard surrounding Black History Month has diminished so drastically it calls into question it's relevance.
The need to separate African American historic achievements from that of the larger population is becoming more frequently debated. We've elected our first biracial President, a globally popular figure of African and Irish descent. The masses complain about the redundancy of slave narratives, no matter how poignantly they are told. Due to the glaring disparity in accounts of African American contributions to the construction of our nation and it's economy, I personally believe the commemoration is still very necessary. General knowledge of African American history barely skims the surface and recent events have sorely reminded us that the lives of black people, especially young men, are often valued less than their Caucasian counterparts. I am not yet convinced that we are not living in a post racial society. https://maryclaremontchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/when-race-class-and-culture-collide-the-obliteration-of-our-post-racial-america/
What can be done to make black history month less mundane? Ideally we can use this time not only to remember our ancestry, but also to evaluate our present position and establish priorities for our collective future as African Americans. But how do you engage individuals who might not understand the gravity of connecting the here and now with days gone by? Music is always a great place to start.
Hip hop culture has flooded mainstream America. But, with commercial appeal a sense of consciousness has been lost. There was a time when an emcee could move the crowd and inspire a movement. As a parent who enjoys rap music, I am constantly looking for opportunities to introduce kids to a side of hip hop culture that is less misogynistic and more motivational. When wordsmiths use their craft to make hip hop the poetry of our people, they can ignite our sense of personal and communal power. Using your discretion, consider the lyrical content and age of your audience, then share these songs and videos below with a new audience. Remind them that knowing where they come from and what those before them came through, can help them navigate their own journey to greatness.
You Must Learn - KRS One and Boogie Down Productions
U.N.I.T.Y - Queen Latifah
U.N.I.T.Y., Love a black woman from infinity to infinity.Before becoming a Hollywood powerhouse Queen Latifah reigned supreme as a hip hop female force to be reckoned with. The single, released on January 6, 1994, spoke out against the disrespect of women in society, addressing issues of street harassment, domestic violence, and slurs against women in hip hop culture.
Before we came to this country / We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys
To learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans
Asian, Arabs and gave them gold
Free - Goodie Mob
Proud To Be Black - Run DMC
God bless the next baby that comes in this world / The world's full of hate discrimination and sin
People judgin other people by the color of skin / I'll attack this matter, in my own way
The Hollis, Queens New York trio is possibly the most influential act in the history of hip hop culture. From the 1986 Raising Hell Album, Proud To Be Black was a militant black history lesson for their legion of fans across cultures.
Keep Your Head Up - Tupac
I remember Marvin Gaye, used to sing ta me / He had me feelin like black was tha thing to be
And suddenly tha ghetto didn't seem so tough / And though we had it rough, we always had enough
Tupac's legacy lives on in his lyrics laced with outspoken social commentary. There was a lot more to this "rose that grew from concrete" than the thug life motto he's become known for. As he recounts his childhood and affirms black women, Pac is both critical and grateful to his mother, former Black Panther Afeni Shakur. Despite her shortcomings it's clear that activism helped shaped his incendiary passion.
Fight The Power - Public Enemy
Freedom (Theme from Panther)
Slung from the belly of the beast / Used to speak African tongue
I'm getting over 'cause I'm bolder than the next / I'm enlightened 'cause I speak the real truth from the text
Umi Says - Mos Def
My Abi said shine your light on the world / Shine your light for the world to seeI want black people to be free, to be free, to be free
Liberation - Outkast
And the ground just dry
But the roots are strong, so some survive
Yes We Can - Will.I.Am
Yes we can heal this nation / Yes we can repair this world
**After your hip hop black history lesson make sure your kids know the words to We Shall Overcome and The Black National Anthem!