Why We Still Need Black History Month
By Frank Bolden
February 3, 2008
(mp3, 3.4Mb) ]
od morning. Although we can’t tell it by the nice weather outside, here it is February already. We’ve just recovered from Christmas, Epiphany, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and here comes February with Lent, Valentine’s Day and Presidents Weekend. This year we also have the presidential primary and leap year – not to mention the Super Bowl, spring training and preparation for March Madness, and – oh yes – African American History Month.
Note: On this Sunday the sermon was replaced by a talk-back
session with the ministers, so we are posting instead comments made
earlier in the service by Christ Church member Frank Bolden about
African American History Month.
the time each year, since 1926, that we review the contributions of African
Americans to the awesome dream that is America. This annual observation, initially designed
to counter the exclusion and distortion of African Americans’ contributions to
American history, is an important part of the process to help remove obstacles
and barriers that have prevented African Americans from participating fully in
the pursuit of happiness.
in 2008 one might question the relevance of African American History Month. At
a time when one of the leading candidates for a run for the White House is an
African American – as are the Secretary of State of both the nation and the
State of New Jersey. The premier
television talk show hostess is an African American, as are Academy Award
winners, prominent attorneys, poets, physicians and CEOs. At a time when the state has apologized for
slavery – why do we need to celebrate African American History Month?
is a very good question for members of Christ Church and residents of the
greater Summit community, but the answer to the question is well known to
residents ofr Paterson, Newark, East Orange, Jersey
City, Elizabeth, Plainfield, New Brunswick, Trenton, Camden, and other
communities around the state and nation where the results of practices to
prevent African Americans from enjoying the fruits of freedom are more readily
visible. The answer to the question “Why
celebrate African American History Month?” is this: There is still a lot of
work to do, work in the area of the gaps – such as the gap between whites and
blacks in the United States in housing, education, employment, health care, and
criminal justice, to name a few.
has been some real progress in addressing these gaps, but a recent article in
the news indicated that the conditions, found by the Kerner Commission, that
sparked the race riots in the late 1960’s still exist for many urban African
the best seller Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
details the negative perceptions associated with dark pigmentation in America. He documents the widely held belief that dark
skinned people are inferior, violent, lazy, and untrainable. He further shows how this bias is so deeply
rooted in the fabric of our society that most people, including blacks, cannot
mask the effects of this phenomenon, even when they know they are being tested
year NYC high school student recreated the famous doll test used Dr Kenneth
Clark during the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education to show the harmful effects
of racism and segregation. They showed
young African American students a black doll and a white doll and asked the
students to select the doll they liked best – the doll that looks the most like
them. In 1954 and again in 2007, the
students chose the white doll.
is still work to be done before the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in
which people are judged by the content of their character instead of the color
their skin is realized.
celebration of African American History is important for all Americans, not
just blacks. Since the initiation of
this annual celebration remarkable progress has been achieved – the elimination
of lynching, legally sanctioned segregation and discrimination, denial of voting
rights, and so on. These accomplishments
were possible only through the combined efforts, sacrifice and prayers of all
races working together.
will never forget that Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two white men from
New York, were found buried together with James Chaney, a black man from Mississippi,
in that watery grave in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in 1964.
of the ultimate sacrifice of these heroes and others like them, and because of
the hard work of church members just like you throughout the country, who care
enough about their brothers and sisters to find ways to help open the doors of
the American dream to others, today we know about the contributions of Barack
Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Nina Mitchell Wells, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Denzel
Washington, Ben Carson, Ted Wells, Tiger Woods, and Dick Parsons – outstanding achievers
all. Their accomplishments are manifestations of African American History. Their contributions are a double edged sword.
On the one hand they help eradicate the negative bias about the perceived
inferiority of African Americans and provide sources of inspiration for others
to emulate. On the other hand, the
brilliance of their contributions can lead to the misconception that there is
no longer any need for celebrating African American History. That is not true as a great number of African
Americans are plagued by the aforementioned gaps which prevent them from participating
fully in the pursuit of happiness.
closing, let me briefly mention another reason for celebrating African American
History Month. With global competition
and the flattening of the world through technology, the United States needs all
the talent and creativity it can muster to continue the growth and development
which fuels our economy. We can ill
afford the underutilization of the great potential represented by 12% of our
is still true that more African American men between 18-25 years of age are
ensnared in the criminal justice system – under indictment, in prison, or on
parole – than are enrolled in college.
recently saw someone wearing a tee shirt that on the front read “Work in
Progress” and on the back read “God is still working on me”. To me that sums up African American History
Month. It’s a work in progress with much
work to be done. God is doing his
part. Now we have to do ours.
F. A. Bolden.
All rights reserved.