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Every February growing up, the classroom bulletin boards would change, showing the faces of famous Black people from the past. There would be illustrations of Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, and Dr. King, along with a smattering of facts about their lives and accomplishments. And then, at the end of the month, they would be packed away to not be discussed until the following February. You can imagine the signal that sent to this bi-racial Black girl.
I couldn’t stow away my Blackness or relegate it to a certain time or place. It is a part of me. It is the curl in my hair. It is the melanin in my skin. It is my past, present, and future. Black history is not an academic discussion to me; it is my family history and lived experience.
During this and previous Black History Months, I’m reminded of where I come from and those who came before that made the life I have today possible. I think not only of the sacrifices they made and the racism they endured, but of their triumphs and everyday moments of joy.
I saw a post recently that said, “Black people are more than their pain and trauma.” That deeply resonates with me this Black History Month. In a year filled with indescribable loss and suffering in the Black community, I’ve been on a search to celebrate Black joy wherever I find it. Whether that’s continuing to revel in the fact that a Black woman is Vice President, soaking in the gifts of Black creatives, relishing the joy and laughter that comes from conversations with my mom and sister, or reminiscing about my grandparents.
So much of the narrative around Black people is centered on our pain and struggles. And to an extent it should. Without acknowledging the devastating effects of White supremacy, there can be no moving forward. However, we are so much more than our struggles. By limiting the narrative to our trauma, you erase the fullness of our being.
While I desire this of everyone, we as the Church have an obligation to examine the ways we center Whiteness in our own lives, traditions, and systems and how we fail to fully recognize the dignity of others. One small way we can do this is to challenge the narrative that has been handed down to us. To see this Black History Month as not a limited time of learning and celebration, but as the beginning of an unlearning and relearning of history. To look around us and see the heroes walking among us. To acknowledge the worth and dignity of Black bodies that still breathe. To begin to dismantle systems of oppression. What would that look like?
- Michelle Strickland