Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor
Tea timers, it’s time to say farewell to our favorite — and shortest — month of the year: Black History Month. Throughout the month of February, we celebrate the accomplishments of black Americans across history. This year, we were super lucky because we got an extra day.
While our time has unfortunately come to an end, I want to highlight some of my favorite moments in black history and why they mean so much to me.
The Harlem Renaissance
The Roaring ’20s were a time of roaring racism and classism. It is a time constantly associated with rich white folks fighting for their right to drink. Meanwhile, black Americans were fighting for the right to be treated as humans.
During a turbulent and deadly time, black Americans utilized their uncanny ability to find beauty in the madness. The Harlem Renaissance, which took place in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, was the embodiment of black culture. An explosion of art, literature, music and so much more; it’s easy to see why it was nicknamed “The Golden Age” of black culture.
As a writer, I consider myself an artist. My writing, ranging from journalism to poetry, is a way of expression and compassion when speaking is just not enough. If it weren’t for the Harlem Renaissance, I wouldn’t have a sense of culture and history to draw from. The Harlem Renaissance is an inspiration for all black artists.
Angela Davis’ acquittal
For as long as I can remember, Angela Davis has been my idol. A woman of elegance and intelligence, she is everything I aspire to be and more.
In 1970, Davis, like many black Americans, fought and resisted against the abuse from white folks who hoped to keep the community down. But in October of that same year, Davis became an enemy of the white state, landing on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Set to be charged with conspiracy, murder and kidnapping by an all-white jury, it seemed like the black woman’s life was over.
However, Davis was acquitted by that same all-white jury in June, 1972. A sharp and brilliant woman, she is both an inspiration to women and black people.
Rise of Black Power
Stories like Davis’ were highly common during the ’60s and ’70s. Black Americans began publicizing their fatigue and frustration with the disrespect and neglect. They were fed up. Because of the separation of races already created by white folks, black people realized their biggest weapon: themselves.
Aligning themselves behind one another, black Americans across the nation began priding themselves in their ability to be great. Supporting each other’s economic endeavors created black economists such as Andrew Brimmer, who served on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve from 1966 to 1974.
The most important thing the rise of black power did was focus black anger and sadness on educational and political institutions. There was a high demand for more representation in classrooms and policy. In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress, and black power catapulted her toward a bid for the presidency four years later.
Today, black power is still a uniting force for all black Americans.
The Oprah Winfrey Show
On Sept. 8, 1986, history was made yet again by a strong black woman. The Oprah Winfrey show aired nationally, and the daytime talk show was wildly successful. Later on, Winfrey became one of the most, if not the most, powerful and influential woman in America.
Using her popular platform, Winfrey discussed the realities of being black in America, while never failing to provide positivity. Her show taught its viewers self-improvement tactics and inspirational methods. Winfrey was an inspiration to all.
Winfrey is a household name. When I hear her name, I think of a black woman who paved the way for those like her in ways that were unheard of. She was aware of the struggles and hardships of being both a woman and a black person. While I feel as though her activism has taken a turn for the worse due to her diminishing activism on behalf of the black community, Winfrey is still a pioneer.
Election of President Barack Obama
Finally, the man of the hour: President Barack Obama. A man of elegance and intellect. A man with the greatest sense of command and respect. A man who made history in 2008.
In third grade, my teacher assigned the entire class with the task of writing a letter to the president. I had just immigrated back to the U.S., and my teacher wanted me to write a letter to the most powerful man in the world. “Americans are weird,” I thought. But I obliged. I don’t remember what I wrote but I do remember never receiving a response. So, from that day, I promised to do so well in life that President Obama would respond to me in person.
Because of him, I have the opportunity to do well in life while still in the realm of politics and law. President Obama is the man who allowed black children to see themselves in the White House.
While black history is found throughout this nation, I wanted to also highlight the great coverage by The Commonwealth Times of black history in the making here in Richmond.
Hannah Eason, news editor of The Commonwealth Times, covered a story that highlighted the selfless activism of family members of incarcerated people and supporters who gathered at the Bell Tower in Capitol Hill. The rally was led in January by the Virginia Prison Justice Network, an organization that works to reform the Virginia Department of Corrections.
I pride myself in being a prison reform activist. As a black American, I know the brutal reality of mass incarceration, particularly its resemblance to slavery. Furthermore, as a future lawyer, I’m aware of the racist policy that utilizes the criminal justice department as an institutional and systemic barrier against the black community.
One misconception I despise is that athletes aren’t allowed to use their platform for more than just their sport. “Shut up and dribble” is one of my biggest pet peeves. Noah Fleischman, sports editor for The Commonwealth Times, wrote a profile piece on a former VCU basketball player who has worked to give back to his community.
Lionel Bacon has used his knowledge of the sport to educate the youth of Richmond. He serves as the vice president of philanthropy for the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls.
“I’ve always enjoyed feeling like I was impacting somebody else’s life positively,” Bacon said. “Especially someone who might be in a similar situation or just needed help.” This quote encapsulates the energy of Black History Month. We are meant to empower one another and make sure we are comfortably secure in our successes.
Finally, I want to not only shout out an article, but also a writer. Iman Mekonen, the spectrum editor for The Commonwealth Times, is an empowered, witty and graceful black woman who uses her journalistic talent to cover the amazing arts and culture of the community. I can’t discuss black history without giving her some of the spotlight.
While Mekonen has covered an array of black art and culture, one specific story truly impressed me. She did a Black History Month profile on Nontsikelelo Mutiti an assistant professor of graphic design at VCU. Mutiti, a native of Zimbabwe, creates art resembling black hair styles.
“I didn’t want to paint or make artwork for the art market that we had that kind of automatically privileged the white community,” Mutiti said. Similar to those who led the Harlem Renaissance, Mutiti is using her art to educate the public on black culture, and provide art to a new audience of her black peers.
Black Americans are the backbone of this nation. Throughout history, time and time again, the black community has escaped the torture and terrorism their white counterparts have subjected them to.
So, as we bid this great month farewell, do remember: Black history is American history. And that’s the tea.