news-category: Black History Month

Considering Who and What is Celebrated During Black History Month

Brandon Richmond poses with his books in the library

Senior Brandon Richmond Shares His Search to Discover What the Month Means to Him

By Brandon Richmond, 2023 Intern for University Communications

“What does Black History Month mean to me?” It’s a question that I asked myself a lot a few years ago. I have celebrated it for as long as I can remember. I remember my mother gathering my siblings and me together to watch various Black historical movies and documentaries, from “Roots” to the Maya Angelou documentary. My family would often spend February talking about Black history and going to various museums. And, all of this taught me what Black History Month means to Black people, but not always what it meant for me as an individual.

It was not until high school that I found myself in various conversations about the relevance of Black History Month. I defended the month tooth and nail, always talking about the foundations of the month. I would always bring up why Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black history, founded Black History Week to celebrate the freeing of the slaves and also celebrate the accomplishments African Americans made after that. I would talk about how Historical Black Colleges and Universities turned that week into a month. However, I started to feel that this answer was unsatisfactory, even though those I was arguing against found themselves satisfied.

I felt like there was something that even I was missing when thinking about Black History Month. When I was a freshman at Gardner-Webb University, I found myself celebrating Black History Month at college. I posted a series of Instagram stories that were facts about historical Black figures and seldom talked about Black facts. And while I did this and researched a lot of Black stories and facts to discuss, I still felt like I was missing something. People would direct message me telling me how much they loved the series. Yet, I felt like something was missing.

At this same time, I was in the “African American Literature” class with Dr. Kemeshia Randle Swanson and “Creative Non-Fiction” class with Professor Matthew Duffus. Professor Duffus had us read James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” and for Dr. Swanson, we read African American poetry. James Baldwin in this work talked so much about life and living. He talked about his lived experience, his struggles, his frustrations, and his thoughts. And the poetry I read for Dr. Swanson was not all about suffering, oppression, and struggling—a lot of it was happy and upbeat. The poets were lamenting their situation but also expressing joy for the few things they did have.

It was then that I realized what Black History Month meant to me.

Black History Month was not just about the history of those who came before me but it was about me and my lived experiences. It was meant to be a celebration of Black culture and history not just a holiday about facts. I had been viewing it as a time of looking back on the people before me and not an active celebration of my lived experience as a Black person and celebrating the existence of my family, friends, and community. That is why Black History Month is important, because it is Black people still celebrating the continuation of Us, our stories, and our history.

Black History Month is not just about the past—it is about the past, the present, and the future. It represents the fact that Black history will always exist and cannot be destroyed. It is meant to represent the strength of our stories and experiences. Now, when Black History Month comes around, I still reflect on books like Carter G. Woodson’s, “The Miseducation of the Negro,” where he describes the importance of Black History. Yet, I also reflect on works like N.K. Jemisin’s “How Long ‘til Black Future Month,” a collection of Afrofuturist stories that center on the idea that Black History is not just about the past but also about the future.

Black People existing and celebrating our existence; that is what Black History Month is to me.

Brandon Richmond, of Salisbury, N.C., is double majoring in English and theology/philosophy and plans to graduate in May. On the GWU campus, he is active in several clubs and organizations and serves as president of the Black Student Association and senior class vice president

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