In elementary and middle school we celebrated Black History Month with a large-scale performance exhibition. It was a time-consuming project, in which we sang old gospel songs such as “We Shall Overcome” and performed speeches from notable figures in Black History. I remember my friends and I were not always eager to wake up early on Saturday mornings for run-throughs and dress rehearsals.
As I reflect on that experience, I regret that I was not appreciative of my opportunity to narrate such crucial parts of American history. Now, I miss those lengthy days of rehearsals.
I miss our off-key renditions of hymns. I miss reciting powerful statements by heroes such as Harriet Tubman and acclaimed poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. No other grade school I know would pay tribute to such intense yet relevant figures and events. As a child, it was rare to be given the chance to impart knowledge of Black History — a history that was quieted for centuries.
Luckily, the noise of protesters did not impede the resilient fight for freedom. The prevailing mood of hope conquered all fears.
We are fortunate to live in a country that recognizes the contributions of a historically disadvantaged population. There is no industry that has not been influenced by a person of color.
Academy Award-nominated films such as Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight are expanding conversations on being black in the United States. I remember watching Hidden Figures in a packed theater where black people and white people lauded in one accord the successes of revolutionary African-American mathematicians at NASA.
These exemplary women are included in a large grouping of pioneers who were once unrecognized, but history has since praised. African-American stories like these should be hidden no more.
It is our moral obligation as a student body to denounce prejudice and wrongdoing even when such behavior becomes normalized in society. For too long the African-American story has been dominated by unfair stereotypes and economic disadvantages.
There is a perpetual struggle for African-Americans to be recognized as legitimate inheritors of cultural traditions founded on the land their ancestors tilled. And though many are thriving today, hardships continue to hinder progress. I challenge all of us to explore these histories to promote healthier relations among different races.
Black History is a living, breathing movement that our forbears started with hopes of cultivating a better environment for us. Their legacy is left to us. We, as in every human being, are capable of redirecting longstanding perceptions of race.
We march on each day motivated by a desire for improvement. Black History is not simply a month-long event. It is an integral part of United States history. Most importantly, it invigorates us in every season to crusade against bigotry and racism.
Thank you, champions of change, for your battle cries and teary eyes. I know you would smile at us for our accomplishments. We will continue to press onward, unmoved and unshaken by obstacles ahead.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”
We honor the bravery of our heroes with perseverance and determination in mind. We shall overcome because the mountaintop is in sight, not far from reach.