At Howard University, black history isn’t confined to February
We celebrate blackness every day and, as students, we hope to make history ourselves
Nathaniel Easington is a senior at Howard University and one of six Rhoden Fellows from historically black colleges and universities participating in a yearlong internship with The Undefeated.
The celebration and education of black history should be every month because it is just as important as any other history that doesn’t have a specifically designated month to be celebrated and taught. I didn’t learn this until I got to Howard University.
Buildings, scholarships and even methods of study are named after some of the black figures who attended Howard. And while there is a lot of learning, recognition and thanks for the Bison who have come before us, we are also trying to become one of the historic figures being celebrated each February.
Over the last four years I have been lucky to celebrate my Februarys at Howard University and in Accra, Ghana. In Accra, the experience was unique because of the nonexistent black American culture, no Black History Month promotions and no special celebrations during February. Still, I found the environment more relaxed and consistent than my Black History Month experiences before I got to the university.
Growing up, I attended an elementary and middle school named after Martin Luther King Jr. in Evanston, Illinois. The school was known for having programs that tried to spark an early interest in the sciences for black and Latino students. However, most of the student body, especially those in advanced placement classes, was white. MLK Day was always celebrated in a spectacular fashion, but when February began, there was a feeling of increased pressure from the schools to highlight black heroes and celebrate black history.
Teachers seemed to be bogged down with having to interrupt their curriculums and tediously move through lesson plans to squeeze in a month of highlighted black history. Everything had to be perfect so it could be forgotten about for the next year. While aspects of black American history were touched on throughout the year, most of the key historical figures we learned about were white and the lessons almost never addressed black history outside of the United States unrelated to slavery.
I think instead of pushing teachers, students and parents to cram the 400-year history of black Americans into a month, time would have been better spent had these lessons and celebrations been taught and highlighted normally throughout the year.
From first grade through eighth grade, my mother would take my brothers and me to the museums in the Chicagoland area during winter break and days off throughout the school year. The Field Museum of Natural History or the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago were always on the top of our list when my mom announced a trip to the museum.
However, about every third or fourth trip, my mom would end the democracy between my brothers and me and decree that we were going to the DuSable Museum of African American History. And while the history of black people in the diaspora or African empires from thousands of years ago wasn’t as interesting to a 10-year-old as a flight simulator or tyrannosaur skeleton, it relieved the feeling that black history had to be celebrated in February, because my family and I had been celebrated all year.
While it may have been my own shortsightedness in my education before I got to Howard, James Baldwin was an American author I never read before I got to school. The way so many of his plays and novels tell vibrant stories that are sometimes parallel with social issues today is simply cool to experience as a reader and impressive and inspiring as a graduating journalism major.
The idea of “every month is Black History Month on historically black campuses” is true at Howard. There isn’t a lot of extra emphasis during February to celebrate black heroes, as it is done almost daily at Howard.