Every February, the United States honors the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shaped the nation. The month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history.
The management and staff of Project Access NOW (PANOW) celebrate the month of February popularly known as Black History Month.
This year’s theme, Black Health and Wellness, pays homage to medical scholars and health care providers. The theme is especially timely as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected minority communities and placed unique burdens on Black health care professionals.
At PANOW, roughly 65% of our clients identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color, most fall below the federal poverty level, and many identify as immigrants and/or undocumented. At PANOW, we continue to focus on how our priorities, outreach, and engagement to within and beside Black communities promote advancement and well-being for the communities who have been made vulnerable by our systems.
“There is no American history without African American history,” said Sara Clarke Kaplan, Executive Director of Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University in Washington, D.C. The Black experience, she said, is embedded in “everything we think of as ‘American History.'”
It was Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black history,” who first initiated in 1926 to designate a time to promote and educate people about Black history and culture.
Woodson envisioned a weeklong celebration to encourage the coordinated teaching of Black history in public schools. He designated the second week of February as Negro History Week and galvanized fellow historians through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which he founded in 1915. (ASNLH later became ASALH.)
The idea wasn’t to place limitations, but really to focus and broaden the nation’s consciousness.
Why February was chosen as Black History Month
February was chosen primarily because the second week of the month coincides with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. Lincoln was influential in the emancipation of slaves, and Douglass, a former slave, was a prominent leader in the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery. Lincoln and Douglass were each born in the second week of February, so it was traditionally a time when African Americans would hold celebrations in honor of emancipation, Kaplan said.
Thus, Woodson created Negro History Week around the two birthdays as a way of “commemorating the black past,” according to ASALH.
“Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington or from some of our sports heroes, ‘’ declared former President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American President in one of his many speeches to the nation.
Things you can do around the region to explore Black history this month:
- Portland Trail Blazers: Celebration of Black History Month
- February Jazz Festival: PDX Jazz Festival
- Cascade Festival of African Films
- Northwest Black Comedy Festival
- Black Love Day
Dele Oyemaja, Director of Equity & Advocacy, and all of us at PANOW