Why Black History Month?

Hykeng Paul

As a nation, we celebrate Black History Month to honor African American achievement and recognize African Americans’ central role in U.S. history. Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans began Negro History Week to encourage the study of African American history. Originally the second week of February, Negro History Week coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who were both key figures in the abolition of slavery in the United States. The civil rights movement of the 1960s helped elevate Negro History Week into a month-long celebration of Black history. Since 1976, Black History Month has been an annual celebration in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Black History Month is not a new concept to me. When I was younger, Black History Month brought on two separate emotions – excitement and dread. Excitement, because it was something that caused my family and church family to be excited. Dread, because in school, it felt like a spotlight was put on myself and other classmates by our white friends. Was that a good thing? Was that a bad thing? Some didn’t think we should celebrate Black History Month at all. Some even laughed or made sarcastic comments. I was conflicted. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned so much about myself, others, and God. I’ve learned that Jesus desires to make us one. But even in that unity, God maintains our uniqueness. There’s beauty in our distinctiveness. We can live in unity and celebrate our unique differences. I’ve grown to love this month more and more, because it honors the contributions of Black people who have paved the way for me. Through Black History Month, I, and so many like me, feel seen and heard. 

Most people can trace their heritage back for generations and generations. Through that, they feel connected to their past and this gives them a great sense of identity. Because of slavery, most people of African descent in America can only trace their history back a few generations. Celebrating Black History Month helps us reclaim our story and understand our identity in Christ. 

If you’re not from an African background, is there value in celebrating Black History Month? The acknowledgement of Black History Month says to the Black community, “We see you! We see your history! Your story is part of our story, and our story is part of your story.” Celebrating together says that, even though you weren’t there during that part of history, you recognize the important contributions African Americans have made to our country and acknowledge that wounds still exist that need healing. 

God has given our church a family value of Pursuing Uncommon Unity. A church that reflects the demographic of heaven – multi-ethnic and multi-generational. This unity isn’t common in our world, but should we expect that? This unity is only common in the kingdom of God. Jesus taught us to pray for His kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven. 

The apostle John shows us what this kingdom looks like in Revelation 7:9-10. Since we’ll be together in heaven, let’s desire to be together on earth. May our coming together not attempt to change the outward appearance — but rather fulfill Jesus’ words: “So that the world will know that the Father has sent Me.” 

6 Ways to Pursue Uncommon Unity During Black History Month

1. Pray that God would awaken the people of our state through God’s Spirit. The unity we hope for happens when hearts are changed by Jesus. Pray for racial unity in your home, with friends, and extended family.  

2. Think about ways to steward friendships better. Maybe that’s taking advantage of the opportunities God has given you with friends or co-workers who are from a different ethic background. Consider asking an African American friend for lunch or coffee and open a dialogue. Maybe it’s taking a risk to introduce yourself to someone new. Show your humility by pursuing them. Talk frankly about attitudes you grew up with and how Jesus is changing you. Ask if they’ve noticed any “blind spots’’ in your friendship. Or ask, “Have I ever said anything offensive to you?” or, “Are there ways that I can help you feel more welcome around me?” This may initially feel weird, but if you’re honest and address “why,” it’s not weird at all. In fact, it shows humility and intentionality on your part. 

3.If you have friends that are from a different ethnic background, be intentional in February to tell them that you’re thankful for their friendship. In our culture, this kind of unity is uncommon!

4 In the month of February, watch a documentary or read a book on Black history. Though we may have heard about people or events in school, we may appreciate what happened on a deeper level as adults. The stories of great Black men and women such as Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, and Martin Luther King Jr. challenge us to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

5. Take time to meet with and ask questions of those African Americans who lived through the civil rights movement. We don’t want to miss an opportunity to learn from a generation that has so much courage and life to impart.             

6. Commit in the month of February to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Give honor to God and stir up honor for those created in His image. Demonstrate your love of God by loving others well. 

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