By Shelby Disla

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

In honor of Black History Month, I asked eight college students from eight different schools what Black History Month means to them. There’s beauty in their responses but once you know how Black History Month originated there’s also power — especially since college students are a major part of the story. Here are their words.

Deneil White, Jamaican American

The State University of New York at Plattsburgh

“Black history month in its most pure form is a time in which we are able to acknowledge both the beautiful and dark history of a group whose story is complex and full of layers. Though it is impossible to fully dissect who black people are in one month, it has given people a designated time in which we can look deep at the history that has paved the way for today’s generations. The courage of some of the world’s most impactful heroes such as Marcus Garvey,  MLK, Nelson Mandela and countless others finally has a place in everyone’s life where they can be discussed without creating discomfort. As a Black man, I’ve come to realize that as much as time has progressed, there is still an unbelievable amount of racial tension in the land of the free. It is important that we look at black history as a way to not repeat the negative elements of the past while making advancements for a better future.”

Miracle Sanchez, Dominican

St John’s University

“Black history month is the very much needed space to acknowledge and celebrate Black empowerment beyond just emphasizing and profiting from the struggles Black people have and continue to experience.”

Jose Silverio, Puerto Rican & Dominican

Florida Atlantic University

“Black history month to me means a lot since it’s a month where we acknowledge the accomplishments of Black individuals from the past to present day. We acknowledge how many great people sacrificed themselves for the freedom and equal rights of Black people — that’s why it means a lot to me because it shows that standing up for your people can go a long way. Thanks to them, we have freedom today and continue the fight for equal rights.”

Tianna Carrington, Caribbean-American

Syracuse University

“Black History Month is a month to celebrate innovators and creators. Though Black History is celebrated every day by me, it’s important to take the time during the month of February to really think about the Black people who paved and still are paving the way for Black people.”

Jessica Parra Ventura, Dominican

The State University of New York at Albany

“Excellence, acknowledgment, culture and Black love. Our blackness is pure excellence and on this month we emphasize it.”

Emmanuel Adenekan, African American

Borough of Manhattan Community College

“To me Black history month means the celebration of myself, but most importantly the great things Black people have done for the community and the nation for the past centuries. It takes place during the month of February but should be a year-round recognition and celebration.”

Ruby Bryan, Jamaican American

Fashion Institute of Technology

“Black history month highlights the love, determination, integrity, and innovation within the Black community worldwide. The Black Diaspora has planted roots in every corner of the world and has sprouted a beauty unlike any other. These strong roots have been sustaining the Black community for centuries and, while they have endured pain and suffering, they’ve also experienced joy, beauty, and love. The Black community is extremely diverse and Black History Month unifies us, letting us see the beauty that has bloomed, and allowing us to continue this nurturing. My favorite part of Black History Month is seeing a constant stream of accomplishments of Black people beyond those I may personally know and celebrating them and their success. Black history, excellence, and achievements cannot be limited to just one month, but Black History Month celebrates and spotlights our strong roots and beautiful blossoms.”

Chigozie Eke, Nigerian

University at Buffalo

“Black history month to some is just another month out of the 12, but to others like myself, it means much more. The month of February is a month of empowerment, upliftment, and pride to the Black community; The wonderful, impactful efforts and accomplishments of Black leaders, inventors, artists, writers, singers, dancers, athletes, etc, from the past to present – they’re acknowledged all throughout the month, inspiring future generations to be great and rise above all no matter what others say.”

The Origins of Black History Month

After doing my research, I found out through History.com that Black History Month goes way back to 1915 — half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. That year, Historian Carter G. Woodson and American Minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), which works to promote the achievements of Black Americans and other people of African descent.

In 1926, the ASALH decided to sponsor a national Negro History Week. They choose the second week of February since it coincides with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. Notably, Douglass, the founder of the anti-slavery publication the North Star, was a consultant to President Lincoln and helped convince him that slaves should serve in the Union forces and that the abolition of slavery should be a priority of the war.

Negro History Week inspires schools and communities across the country. By 1929, the success and development of Black History Week were bearing fruit, with the formation of Black History Clubs, and interest from teachers and progressive white Americans.

By the late 1960s, the civil rights movement anchored growing awareness of Black identity, which led to Negro History week evolving into Black History Month on many college campuses independently.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month. He called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, American presidents have designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme yearly. According to ASALH, last year’s theme was The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. The theme for this year was Black Health and Wellness. The 2023 theme is Anti-Black Violence and Resistance in the Diaspora. 

A lot of us aren’t familiar with the history of Black History month, or that the youth, college students themselves, are part of the story. So, I thought it was important to share what Black History month means to college students decades later – our present day.

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