I was recently asked, as a black man, what Black History Month means to me. Here is my truth.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH IS ABOUT CONTEXT
In America, slavery persisted from 1619 to 1865; a total of 246 years. Segregation was the way of life from 1865 to 1954; a total of 69 years. The current state of race relations [let’s call it Integration] has only been the way of life for 63 years. Understanding that timeline means understanding that people of color have “free” for far less time than they have been enslaved. It means understanding that progress is happening at a rapid rate (see: the election of Barack Obama), but we are less than one generation away from segregation in North America. It means understanding that as far as we’ve come as a society (or as a myriad of different communities under one North American umbrella), there are still remnants of racial tension, bias and discrimination that will continue to persist for generations if left unaddressed.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH IS ABOUT CONTINUITY
The Black Lives Matter movement states that “[they] are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise”. This statement sums up the mission of the largest movement for black activists of our time, but it also offers a sliver of insight into the “black experience”. Within the aforementioned context we are currently living in – without a doubt – the best time in history for a black person in North America. But that does not mean that people of colour have achieved equal rights. It does not mean that the stories of people of colour growing up today are going to be the same as the stories of the rest of the countries today. As we move into whatever the next stage of race relations in our corner of the world, it’s important that we don’t pull up the ladder once we’ve reached the top of the mountain. Leaving the foundation for future generations to continue to evolve is the only way to sustain (and accelerate) social progress in any meaningful way.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH IS ABOUT PRIDE
I am proud to be black. No ifs, ands or buts about that. That said, I understand that sometimes that pride can be veiled behind protest, activism, politics and even anger. The reason that those other parts of my blackness can overpower my pride is because, frankly, I believe that they are more important in the hyper-political environment that I live in. I said recently on the “Dirty Love Podcast” that “I’ve spent a lifetime overcompensating for being black”. This could be the result of a tiny voice in my head telling me that I need to prove something. It could also be the result of a lived experience that has forced me to have my guard up about the preconceived notions that others might have about me before they know anything about me before I’ve opened my mouth. But despite the knee-jerk reaction to be defensive, protective or informative about my blackness, I am, above all, proud to be black.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH IS ABOUT CELEBRATION
To me, the best part of black history month is the opportunity to celebrate blackness. Celebrating the struggle of black people and the strength and confidence in character that that has created. Celebrating Africa and the role that that continent has played in shaping human history (if you haven’t already, go read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari). And, celebrating exactly where we are, today, as a broader, multicultural community, because collectively, we have done some important work to include and respect the different members of our society. Black history month gives an entry point and a reason to investigate, celebrate and better understand black arts & culture, its people, its history and contribute a voice to actively celebrating and the beauty that exists within it.
Written by Marlon Thompson
Impact, movement and connection describe the work that Marlon does on a daily basis. By day he serves as Program Director for the League of Innovators working with young entrepreneurs across the country to develop business acumen from ground up. When he isn’t working in the boardroom, Marlon is doubling as a leader in the fitness community serving as a spin instructor at RIDE Cycle Club in Vancouver. After 2 years as a connector for RYU, Marlon has brought education, movement and community together and continues his pursuit to find new ways to create spaces for others to reach their full potential.