Black History Month: We must learn about both lists


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“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

I recently purchased a T-shirt for my son for Black History Month. It reads, “Dream Like Martin (Luther King, Jr.), Lead like Harriet (Tubman), Fight like Malcolm (X), Think like (Marcus) Garvey, Write like Maya (Angelou), Build like Madam C.J. (Walker), Speak Like Frederick (Douglass), Educate like W.E.B. (Du Bois), Believe like Thurgood (Marshall), Challenge like Rosa (Parks), Inspire like (Barack) Obama.

There was some controversy about the shirt on FaceBook. After reading the list, a man had written, “Nah! I’d rather love like Jesus Christ,” to which I replied, “If you truly loved like Jesus Christ, you would have no problem with this list. There was no ultimatum. Sadly, you added that.”

I wondered if there would have been any negativity if the list had read, Dream like Walt (Disney), Lead like George (Washington), Fight like Susan B. (Anthony), Think like Albert (Einstein), Write like Emily (Dickinson), Build like Henry (Ford), Speak like John F. (Kennedy), Educate like Helen (Keller), Believe like Orville and Wilbur (Wright), Challenge like John (Muir), Inspire like Abraham (Lincoln). My guess is “Nah!”

We see lists like the secnd one all the time. And we know all the names on the second one. But I wonder how many people know all the names on the first list?

“Build like Madam C.J.”… Well… build what?

Madam C.J. Walker, born in 1867, created products for African-American hair and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. She was also known for her philanthropic endeavors including donating a large amount of money toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913.

Take your passion and be successful; achieve the American Dream! That’s what “Build like Madam C.J.” says.

How can we understand something if we don’t know much about it? And we usually fear what we don’t understand.

That is why Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week (which later became a whole month) as a space holder and reminder to learn about things and people one might not ordinarily investigate.

Not long ago, I found out that a co-worker had never heard of Harriet Tubman! Even after years of watching otherwise brilliant scholars utterly fail in the Black History category on Jeopardy, I was stunned. I had never fully grasped how easy it is to live in American and know so little about fellow Americans.

We could all stand to learn more about each other and now, (sorry Friends of the Library, but) we have Google!

I wish everyone an enlightening Black History Month.

And I am grateful to everyone on both lists for having the courage to: Dream, Lead, Fight, Think, Write, Build, Speak, Educate, Believe, Challenge and Inspire.

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