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How Your Family Can Celebrate Black History Month All Year Round

Get ready to learn from and interact with people of many different cultures.

February 28th will come and go. Another Black History month completed. Your kids did a neat Black History project at school. You learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, slavery, and Frederick Douglass. Now it’s back to normal. But you don’t want it to be. You want Black History month to positively impact how you see your country and see people of different races and ethnicities. You want to figure out how February can be a starting point for celebrating the unique contributions of diverse Americans and not just a time that’s limited to February.

As families, we have less control over what schools teach, society markets, or our government regulates. However, as a family, you can use the month of February to start conversations, enrich your experiences, and learn about different cultures. Hopefully, you’ll ignite a curiosity that can only be filled by continuing to engage in practices that celebrate African Americans’ contributions and the many rich heritages that make up America.

Here are some ways your family can celebrate Black History month all year round. None of this takes much work. It merely takes being intentional. Pretty soon, your kids will look forward to learning from and interacting with people of many different cultures.

Experiences

Often, the best way to learn about a culture and history is to immerse yourself in that culture. 

Each month, visit a black-owned or uniquely black-operated establishment: restaurants, clothing stores, entertainment spots, places of worship, barbershop, boutique, etc. 

You may get a few looks. 

It’s ok. They are only trying to understand why you’re there. 

Choose a day of the month to listen to music from predominantly black artists: jazz, blues, black gospel, hip hop, R&B, etc. (Think Motown Monday or Friday night Jazz.)

Experience the difference. Discuss what’s different from what you’re used to. What made you comfortable or uncomfortable? What’s good about it? What’s similar to what you’re used to?

Education

Visit museums, watch documentaries and movies, and read books.

As a family, choose a few months out of the year (for instance, once a quarter) to learn something new. You may watch a documentary or visit a museum. Read or listen to audiobooks. Libraries are full of children’s books that highlight various achievements and contributions of African Americans. 

You may follow a theme throughout the year—for instance, music. You might visit the National Museum of African American Music, watch documentaries on the Harlem Renaissance, or play jazz throughout your home on Pandora or Spotify. 

Another example—sports. You might learn about the Negro Baseball League, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, etc. 

*Terms to Google: Harlem Renaissance, The Great Migration, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Miles Davis, Tuskegee Airmen* 

Discuss how what you’ve learned has influenced this country. How have the contributions made America a stronger or better nation? What have you learned that was not so positive?

Relationships

Develop authentic relationships with African Americans where you learn about their experiences. Of course, no one person or family represents the entire African American population. You’re learning about the individual and how their experience as an African American has impacted their life. Their experience as an African American will be different than another African American. Eat with them. Spend time together. Go to places of entertainment with them. Initiate conversations to better understand their story. Be willing to be uncomfortable to better understand.

Check your motives in the process. Do it for the right reasons, not just to check off the box to say you’ve done it, but out of a genuine desire to better understand differences. Diversity brings richness to a community that can’t be gained any other way. We have diverse relationships because we all benefit from them.

Curiosity often begets more curiosity. It’s easy to turn the calendar and return to being with those we’ve always been with. Talking to the ones we’ve always talked to. And listening to what we’ve always listened to. 

But we can all be better. We become better through continual exposure, knowledge, and understanding. Let February launch us all to be better.

How Does Our Marriage Promote Cultural Diversity?

Here are 6 practical ways we make it happen.

With Black History Month upon us, my wife and I decided it’s a good time to talk about how we celebrate Black History, not only in February but throughout the year. 

Appreciating diversity has been a core value in our marriage since day one, partly due to necessity. I’m an American, born and raised in rural west Tennessee. My wife immigrated here from rural Southern Mexico. Growing up in a diverse community was a blessing for me. And as a couple, we want celebrating diversity to be part of our family DNA. 

Here’s how we make celebrating diversity a priority in our marriage. (It won’t hurt our feelings if you steal a few of these ideas for yourself!)

Our Friends

We get to choose the friends we want to be in our lives. And those friends often become family. We surround ourselves with people from different ethnicities on purpose, and we’re thankful to have a diverse friend group. We’ve often celebrated the holidays with Haitians, Jamaicans, Central Americans, and those from different parts of the U.S. 

Our Kids’ School

Passing on this appreciation for diversity to the next generation is crucial to us. Fortunately, we live in a place where we can choose the school our kids go to. We chose a downtown school for our son and daughter that celebrates various ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. This means when our kids are at school, they experience the richness of other cultures and learn from each other.

Media We Consume

Where you spend your time and money shows what you value. We choose to promote diversity through the media we consume, whether it’s music, movies, or TV. We’ve watched films together that celebrate Black History, like 42, Black Panther, and Hidden Figures. Most streaming services have a curated list of movies and shows that promote Black voices. It would be easy to choose one night a week to watch one of these movies or documentaries and talk about them. I’ve gotta warn you, though: as you develop this habit, you’ll start asking why some shows aren’t as diverse as others… and so will your kids.

Voices We Listen To

There are tons of voices vying for our attention. Here’s the thing: we can only listen to voices who sound like us, look like us, and come from where we do. Or we can choose to also listen to those who sound, look, and believe differently. We try to listen to and understand others. Broadening who and what we listen to often shows us we have a lot more in common with others than we ever thought. 

Intentional Conversations 

We look at the calendar to be more aware of ethnic holidays and events like Black History Month. Then we talk to our kids about what they mean because we don’t want them to be afraid or unaware. If our kids ask a question and we don’t know the answer, we say we don’t know. And we’re ok with that. Then we learn together. It’s that simple.

Engaging with Cultures in our Community

Finding and going to cultural festivals in the area throughout the year is a fun way to learn. (Date idea!) These are great (and sometimes FREE) chances to learn about other ethnicities in your community and beyond! You can usually enjoy some fantastic food and unique music while meeting people who are passionate about sharing their culture. (BONUS: Kids will be ready for a nap when you leave. Oh yeah!)

Valuing diversity makes our marriage and family richer. Our kids see this, and they live it out in their friend groups, the athletes and musicians they enjoy, and the media they consume. Bridging the racial gap is a generational choice for us. Keeping the conversation going in our marriage is an essential part of leading our family and promoting diversity in the next generation. 

We’re all different, and that’s ok. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness. 

More on this topic:

How to Talk to Your Child About Black History Month

Deepen your parent-child relationship as you learn together!

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are better together. 2020 exposed the continuing racial divisions we have in our country. But we can move forward and come together to learn about each other’s history and experiences.

As parents, we’re in the best position to help our kids learn values, understand experiences, and build relationships with those in our community who are not the same as we are. We can model how we expect our kids to treat people who are different from us by showing respect for them.

How do you even begin to talk to your child about Black History Month?

Well, there’s no right or wrong way to begin. So, let’s get started!

Who created what we know as African American History Month, and why?

Harvard grad, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, found that African Americans’ accomplishments weren’t written in the history books. As a result, students didn’t learn much about African American contributions to the United States. 

So in 1926, Woodson created Negro History Week to highlight African American contributions to U.S. history. Every U.S. president has designated the month of February as Black History Month since 1976.

Now that you know the origins of Black History Month, you’re ready to research African Americans’ accomplishments! You can also recognize and appreciate the beauty in the differences and diversity in our country as a family. 

You’ll benefit the most if you keep these 4 principles in mind.

1. Be willing to ask questions.

Take a personal (mental) inventory of what you do know about Black History. Then, find out what your child already knows and has experienced. Being curious and asking questions lets them teach you a little bit. They may know way more than you think!

Also, ask your child what they’re interested in. For example, if your kid’s a baseball fan, studying Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, or the history of the Negro Leagues would keep them engaged. If your child is into science, learn about Garrett A. Morgan or Lewis Latimer. 

Ask questions like:

  • Have you ever heard about Black History Month? If so, what have you heard?
  • Are you interested in a specific topic?
  • What do you want to learn about?

4. Be willing to be uncomfortable.

It’s ok to acknowledge that you may not know a whole lot about Black History. Parents have to be willing to say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.” This tells your child that you are open to learning new things and don’t know everything. There are some ugly and uncomfortable facts in the history of Black people in America. If learning about them causes you to react emotionally, that’s fine. Teaching your child how to identify emotions, whether it’s anger, frustration, embarrassment, or confusion, sets a beautiful example of how to process your feelings.

3. Be open to learning with your child.

There are tons of resources for exploring Black History with your child. 

4. Be open to explore and experience Black culture.

There’s so much to learn and read about the richness of Black History. Exploring and experiencing some cultural practices can enhance what you learn, for sure. Here are some suggestions:

  • Cook a soul-food dinner at home. Or, get take-out from a soul-food restaurant.
  • Listen to music by African American artists.
  • Take a virtual tour of or visit an African American museum near you (follow all governmental guidelines).

Whether your child has a Black History Month project or they’re genuinely curious, you can be your child’s go-to person for information. You have a prime opportunity to help them learn about Black History Month, but you don’t have to stop there. You can deepen your parent-child relationship, and your relationships with others, as you discover Black History together all year long.

The world is on edge. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others have caused a boiling over of an already heated pot of racial tension that’s been brewing for decades. More than ever there is a need for ongoing, respectful dialogue between white people and African Americans. Things have to change. I’ll say it like this: With all the distrust, tensions, and negative emotions flying between people of different colors right now, we aren’t going to get anywhere without talking and listening. 

I recently had the opportunity to dive into just such a conversation about racial differences with two of my friends and colleagues, Gena and Reggie who are African American. Here are a few things I learned:

Open, real conversations require sincere relationships between white people and African Americans.

I’m talking about developing friendships here. I’m thankful for my relationship with Reggie and Gena because it allows us to talk sincerely. It’s respectful, but it’s real. They can trust that I’m really trying to understand their perspective, even if I don’t word things in the right way. And I can trust that they will pull no punches when telling me the truth from their perspective.  

There are realities in an African American’s world that aren’t part of my reality. And I have to understand that. 

There are things I simply don’t have to worry about because I’m white. I’ve never had to have the conversation with my kids, if you’re out walking and a police officer drives by you, here’s what you do… I’ve never had to wonder if I can get a mortgage loan because of any other reason than good credit. And it’s a mistake to view African Americans through the filter of my own experiences. 

African Americans don’t want others to feel sorry for them—they want others to hear, understand, and value them.

To a degree, this is what we all want as individuals. But what I learned from Reggie and Gena is that African Americans don’t typically feel this from white people. 

As I listened to Reggie’s and Gena’s stories, there were times when I felt myself getting really angry at the sense of injustice I was hearing. It made me want to do something. I wanted to fix things that I couldn’t really fix. And through the course of the conversation about racial differences, I was reminded over and over again that the focus of my mind doesn’t need to be on righting the wrongs or apologizing for things I had no control over. My focus needs to be on listening to the people in front of me, hearing their voices, and validating their experiences. This is where mutual respect and value starts, I think. 

I need to approach the conversation with humility and a spirit of learning. 

I have an obligation to become a student of people different from me. There may be some things I hear that make me uncomfortable, some things that make me angry, and even some things I plain don’t agree with. I need to ask more questions than give opinions—be mindful of my words, yet not so afraid to say the wrong thing that it prevents me from asking questions that would help me understand.

I’m also moved to engage in books and documentaries that help me learn more about the history, culture, and experience of African Americans. And there is plenty out there to choose from. (Check below for a list of links to recommended books.) 

This is a sad but sincere confession on my part. I’ve never been so interested to understand the African American experience until I began listening—really listening—to African Americans. And I can’t reiterate enough that this seeking to understand, to engage, to listen, happens in the context of developing genuine relationships. People have to know you care before they open up. This is no less true in the dialogue between Whites and African Americans. 

After my conversation about racial differences with Gena and Reggie ended, I wanted to talk more. There is so much I have to learn about racial differences. The road to resolving these racial issues is a long one, but maybe it begins with real conversation. 

Book recommendations: 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

Image from Unsplash.com

Sam Collier didn’t have his first white friend until he was 21 years old.

“It wasn’t until I had this friend that I realized how different our worlds were. He didn’t understand my world and I didn’t really understand his,” says Collier.

It might be helpful to know that Sam is one of five children. However, when he and his twin sister were born, his dad was not in the picture. His mother gave them up for adoption, and a couple eventually adopted Sam and his sister. 

Sam grew up surrounded by people who looked just like him in Decatur, Georgia. His dad owned a barbershop and his mother quit a corporate position at FedEx to focus on raising both of them. 

Today, Sam is a communicator at Northpoint Ministries as well as the Director of City Strategy for The reThink Group. He is also a nationally-syndicated tv and radio host (A Greater Story Podcast; reaches 100 Million Homes weekly), a top 20 Gospel Billboard producer and the founder of No Losing, Inc. In these roles, he has empowered over 80 thousand young people to have a winning mindset in life to achieve their goals by creatively making education relevant to youth.

At this point in his life, Sam has many white and black friends. Sickened and sad over the events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, he believes he is in a unique position to help both black and white people come together and learn so we can all do better with race relations.

Relationships Are Key to Understanding and Change

“Black people have been screaming for many years that something isn’t right, thinking that white people were hearing them and beginning to understand their plight,” Collier says. “In reality, that’s probably not the case. In many instances, I think white people don’t understand Black culture. Honestly, a lot of us don’t really understand white culture. Even though we have been trying to communicate, it’s as though we are on different radio frequencies and both white people and black people have missed each other.

Collier believes that relationships are the bedrock of change for race relations. They are an essential piece of the strategy when it comes to antiracism. After protesting and marching shook the nation in the 60s, MLK built a relationship with a “white” President. Together, they worked to fight evil.

“The first step that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught during the Civil Rights Movement was information gathering,” Collier says. “Before you try and solve a problem, you need to get all the information. Seek to see it from every side. We have to get people coming together, listening to each other and coming up with collective solutions for better outcomes for everyone. This is how you shift a nation. Enough voices saying the same thing, running after the same problem, fighting for the same solutions, refusing to quit until the battle is won. Relationships lead to conversations, conversations lead to strategy, strategy leads to action and strategic action leads to change. There is power in conversations birthed out of personal relationships. We have probably never been more postured for this to be able to happen.

Relationships Can Lead to Lasting Change

Additionally, Collier encourages anyone who is a person of influence in any sector in life to talk with those who are feeling the impact. Lean into the pain of why we are where we are and then seek solutions.

If you are white and don’t know anyone in the black community, reach out. If you are black and see an opportunity to influence a white person seeking to learn through friendship, don’t be afraid to enter in, if they are genuine. This relationship may also help you understand where black and white communities are missing each other. This is a huge step in the right direction. Put yourself in new circles. Collier believes one of the best ways to gain perspective and learn how to take action is by being brave enough to friend someone who is different than you. When you get close you start to debunk a lot of myths you’ve learned in the community.

“We also should be looking at policy changes that need to be made,” Collier says. “This will take some time and strategic thinking.”

Collier believes that there is value in both communities being willing to fight injustice in a Kingian Nonviolent way. He also believes that the injustice we see in our country will change quicker as we come together. Let’s work hard to unify our country so that together we can defeat racism and help America live up to its truest ideals.

Image from Unsplash.com