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“When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will protest until one is made for his use. His education demands it.”

Dr. Carter G. Woodson
The Mis-Education of the Negro

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Sport Mirrors Life.

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As a former advertising creative director, I have watched Black History Month evolve into a commercial event in which corporations purchase ad space and airtime to “acknowledge” African Americans of the past.  Black consumers are over-consumers, and therefore corporate America has somehow convinced itself that if they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars once a year, remembering Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks and the many other African Americans who are no longer with us – especially Dr. Martin Luther King – Black consumers will reciprocate by purchasing their goods and services.  I realize this kind of capitalism is the American way. Christmas didn’t always mean buying gifts and decorations.  Thanksgiving wasn’t always the precursor to Black Friday.  Even Easter used to have a meaning that wasn’t just buying new outfits.  I get that Valentine’s Day and Mother’s and Father’s days were created by the marketing companies.  However, I stand firm in my belief that Black History Month has a purpose that goes beyond creating loyalty among Black consumers for Blue Chip Corporations. 

Back in 1926, Carter G. Woodson declared that the second week in February would be Negro History Week.  He felt that if white Americans were made aware of the achievements of Black people, they would treat us with respect; and if Black Americans knew who they were and where they came from, they would no longer act as if they were inferior.  Yet, the Black History that is celebrated during Black History Month, in most instances, does neither.

Black History Month has become a history of our struggle.  We remember Rosa Parks, “the mother of the movement,” who inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  We remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the March on Washington, or Harriett Tubman who led thousands of slaves to freedom.  These and the many other men and women that were part of the struggle deserve to be recognized as a part of our Black History.  But they are not Black History in and of itself, and the struggle does not define who we are or where we came from.

A month of corporate nods to the contributions and achievements of a few Black people will not cause those white Americans who disrespect us to suddenly begin to treat us with respect.  And telling Black folk that our entire existence in this country has been one struggle after another may cause them to appreciate and admire the courageous men and women who gave much of themselves, including their lives, to the fight for freedom, will not do much of anything to increase the self-esteem of those who have a low opinion of themselves and their race.

We, just like every human species on this planet, are a part of history – World History, American History, Religious History, all histories.  So if Henry Ford, the son of Irish immigrants and the inventor of the first automobile, is not celebrated in an “Irish History Month” or Einstein’s brilliance is not heralded during a “German History Month,”  why must we wait until February to recognize great inventors like Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first open heart surgery; Garrett Morgan, the inventor of the stop light and gas mask., Percy Julian, the scientist who gave us Cortisone and the foam which is used to put out fires,  or Dr. Shirley Jackson the inventor of call-waiting and caller i.d, just because they happen to be Black? Why shouldn’t our children read about them every day in their American history books?

Yet in spite of my objections and complaints, Black History Month is still here, so what should we do with it?  How about a month of celebrating our Blackness?

For one short month let’s celebrate our creativity, our high and varied degrees of intelligence, our uniqueness, our diversity, our humor, our rhythm and so much more that celebrates who we are collectively and where we came from. 


Let’s celebrate our sports acumen and the fact that everything they tried to keep us out of, when we got in – we excelled. Let’s celebrate our entrepreneurs by buying their products and using their services.  Most of all -- let’s celebrate our children.  As Whitney sings, “Give them a sense of pride.”  Let’s find ways of teaching them how wonderful it is to be Black in America.  Let’s have a conversation with our kids (I call them Kidversations) - to assure them that they can be anything they want to be.  Let’s instill in the young, impressionable minds of children of all races that skin color is just something on the outside and inside we are all a lot alike.  Maybe having these kidversations with very young children will result in white kids growing up to respect everyone, regardless of race; and Black kids growing up to love and respect themselves. 

You might be wondering how you can broach such a deep subject to little four or five year old kids.  I found myself wondering the same thing, which is why I launched Kidversations.net.  My first book, It’s Good to Be Me, is colorfully illustrated and written in rhyme to make it fun and easy to read.  Whether kids read it for themselves, or grownups read it to them, it’s a great way to start a meaningful Kidversation.

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Emma L. Young is a former advertising creative director and currently a freelance writer who has written for various publications including ShopTalk Magazine, the Saints Magazine, South Shore Current, the Spiritual Perspective Newspaper, OTC Beauty Magazine, Black College Today and Hype-Hair Magazine. She has written two memoirs and is currently in the process of publishing the third, “Confessions of a Recovering Racist.”  Her new children’s book, It’s Good to Be Me, is aimed toward instilling self-esteem and self-love in very young children. She resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Black History Month.

What It Is, Isn't and Should Be.


By Emma Young