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Dr. Carter G. Woodson

There’s been much on my mind over this past year, particularly as we approach 365 days of pandemic life. The summer of racial strife, the November election, the ensuing insurrection all still weigh heavily on this last day of January.

I’m also thinking about the future. I’m imagining how we can look to tomorrow, February 1 — the first day of Black History Month — and peer forward in new ways.

As we delve into that, it’s first necessary to say that there are some people who aren’t aware that February is Black History Month. To you I say let Google be your bestie for a while, and start with typing “Carter G. Woodson” into the search box.

I’m also well aware that there are others, likely a far greater number, who know of February’s designation but fundamentally disagree with the idea of acknowledging Black achievements and/or giving space for Black people to celebrate themselves. They won’t have their literal white-washed history interrupted by any multicultural musings or historically accurate depictions other peoples’ freedom dreams. Not in their country, which we who are dark were also born in, not-so coincidentally.

For these people (who this piece is not for, as if that needed to be said), I’m no longer sure if there are words.

Let me explain.

In 2020 — and this thought is really sinking in as I’m writing this now — I took in The Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, while living out elements of both in real time. We watched the specter of racism’s roots casually choke the life out of a man laying in the street in broad daylight. We then patiently observed, teacups in hand, as the All Lives Matter crew selected their own lives and interests time and time again, while skipping the entire point of the Black Lives Matter work.

Black lives don’t matter to racists. History’s been pretty consistent on that. Our present has sadly become an all-too-clear reminder.

I used to imagine my mother at lunch counter protests while a college student in the ’60s in North Carolina, and my father coming into his own under the brutally racist gaze of the United States’ military, only to have to march for Black Lives with my own children, on multiple occasions in 2020. I then watched a confederate flag be paraded through the White House on the day that the first Black woman Vice President in U.S. history was to receive her final electoral college stamp. Viewing the Washington chaos unfold on TV that day, and knowing that political analysts had to push the discourse so as to not have this moment be downplayed, and still see it become something less than it actually was because Whiteness doesn’t know how to look at itself in the mirror, I’m left with a kind of meandering disconnect that I would not have imagined for the 21st century. It’s both sobering and perplexing. Backwards, but familiar. Too familiar.

I am thinking about Black lives lost — to COVID, to cancer, to violence, to poverty, to injustice, to stress, to America. I’m thinking about the rise in Black gun owners, and I understand that it has zero to do with “Black on Black” crime. I’m thinking about the idea of Black trauma being passed down through generations, and how this may alter the dreams that we feel can actually belong to us.

Today I want to consider something else — the transfer of Black joy, through Black existence, among lineages and collective consciousnesses and social circles; across spaces, times, and realities. I think that it is here, within this expanse, that untold stories become legends whispered across generations, and ancestors beam even as their names are lost to written record.

As Imani Perry shares in her recent New York Times piece, “Movement is a collective endeavor and the romantic ideal of the hero obscures that truth.” While Black History month is often built upon a catalog of heroes’ tales, this year I am wondering much more about the joy that was shaped within the movement spaces, and the ways that the resilient energy from simply existing while Black has framed legacies of compassion and hope. What America, what world, can our young people create because of the journey of their family’s elders?

Through all that the world has cast our way, we are here, carrying a glory so vast, so resounding, so bountiful. There are no words to describe this brilliant defiance. It is, because we are.

Black history is in our being. Black future is in our being. Because Black is. Black is. Black is.

I am a husband, father, writer, educator, and generator of ideas. Working on my follow through. Latest book, Higher Learning, out now at learnhigher.com.

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