It is important to share Black History Month with our kids because “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” ~Pearl Buck
As each day passes, the witnesses to life-altering events in our nation are passing away. Approximately 850 American World War II veterans die each day.
Most of those who played along side or cheered from the stands during Jackie Robinson’s first game as a Brooklyn Dodger in 1947 are no longer with us.
Those who participated in desegregation of schools in Little Rock, or the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-1957 alongside Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are also no longer with us.
Many of these black events played out on televisions in living rooms across America.
Soon, these events studied during Black History Month will be as distant to our children as the American Revolution or Civil War.
Black History Month, the study of the contributions of Black Americans dates back to 1926 when noted historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (later renamed the Association of Study of African American Life) established the second week of February to be "Negro History Week".
"Negro History Week" was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford expanded the recognition to “Black History Month” and urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
As our country has evolved and integrated people of all races, cultures and religions into one community, our children may find it difficult to relate to the importance of these historical events studied during Black History Month.
Black History Month allows us to retell stories in a meaningful and significant way.
Some of those stories may hearken back to events that are very painful in our history: slavery, segregation, blatant discrimination and violence. Yet, the heroes and heroines who have emerged should stand as role models for all of our children and the obstacles they overcame to make our lives better should be discussed at home as well as in school.
Black History Month can also be a way for children of all backgrounds to celebrate their own cultures.
Here are five activities to share with your children during Black History Month that will reinforce the contributions of African American in our current society while helping to celebrate the diversity of your own culture:
- Share Black History Month by Going to the Library:
Most local libraries will have age-appropriate activities to celebrate Black History Month.
Visit the children’s section together and select a variety of books that cover the life of historical figures, such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Jackie Robinson, to name a few.
Also select one of the hundreds of books that tell the tales of slavery, or the Underground Railroad, such as “Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine, “If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks” by Faith Ringgold or “A Children’s Guide to Black History,” by Nancy Sanders.
Consider books such as “The Other Side,” Jacqueline Woodson or “Freedom Summer,” by Deborah Wiles, which raise the question of discrimination in a fictional setting. Then choose a book which represents your own cultural heritage to provide insight into the challenges all newcomers have faced when coming toAmerica.
- Share Black History Month by Sampling a Culturally Unique Dish:
Prepare and sample corn bread, stew and or a regional cuisine such as gumbo.
Advanced cooks can use the internet or library to create a full meal dishes that are common to Black American families. Non-cooks can bake peanut butter or sesame seed (a symbol of good luck in African culture).
- Share Black History Month by Hosting a Movie Night:
Rent an age-appropriate movie that has civil rights, or desegregation as its theme.
For preschoolers, the library has many DVDs from “Little Bill.” “Remember the Titans,” “Radio” and “Coach Carter” all share a sports theme and “Roots”, “Mississippi Burning", "The Long Walk Home", and "Ghosts of Mississippi” or “Ali” may be suitable for older teens.
- Share Black History Month by Celebrating the Historical Contributions:
Discuss the influence of jazz and blues artists on modern American music. Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith and Ray Charles have laid the foundation for future musicians with their revolutionary styles.
Poets such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker and trail-blazing actors such as Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby and Dyan Carroll were pioneers in a very different world.
Have your child create a list of 10 items invented by Black American’s and share with them with the family.
- Share Black History Month by Having a Cross-cultural Celebration with the Family of a Schoolmate:
At the conclusion of Black History Month, ask you child to invite a friend over for an all-about-me night.
As the family to bring a dish that is steeped in custom (along with the recipe) and a short picture book depicting a character of his or her ancestors; as host family, do the same.
Then, select a simple craft that the children can personalize (such as a picture frame or musical instrument craft), symbolic of each of the two cultures.
At the end of the evening, have your families exchange the crafts and recipes, as a gesture of sharing your culture with some one else.
By making Black History Month an annual activity, you will ensure history is more than just something your children read about in a text book.