Beginning in 1926, the month of February has been dedicated to the celebration of the achievements by people of African descent to the common life of all of humanity. These celebrations aren’t limited to the United States, but extend to several other countries. In my research, I was surprised to learn that the month of February was specifically chosen because of Abraham Lincoln's and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. I said to myself, "How imaginative was that decision, that both men would be honored for their role in African-American life."
During the month of February, all who are of African ancestry and those who have contributed significantly towards the life, the uplift, and the well-being of Africans in the diaspora are honored. The celebrations do not center on one particular person, but on a broad swath of people without whose contributions African-American life wouldn’t be what it is today.
One of the many heroes and heroines that I (and many others) have been influenced by is Booker T. Washington. I initially got to know about Booker T. Washington through my mother. She didn’t graduate high school, but is such an avid reader. One day, she showed up with Booker T. Washington’s book Up From Slavery. After reading the book, she invited my younger brother and myself to read it, and so we did. Upon reading, I do not recall getting any visceral reaction over the atrocities that many people of color did endure. It was a very distant from my reality and, at the time, probably did not understand.
I think the point my mother sought to make was more about how Booker overcame significant challenges, beating the odds and embracing his identity as he worked his way getting into college, and collaborating with others to establish a school of higher education for people of African ancestry. The good news is that this university, Tuskegee University, still continues to serve both people who are of African descent, and people who are not. I have a friend, one whom I grew up with in Ghana, who is presently a professor at Tuskegee University.
For me, the intriguing part was the rationale for the choice of February. Although Abraham Lincoln was not of African descent, his indelible contribution was duly recognized and, in fact, his immeasurable contribution is the reason why the dream of Columbia, Maryland by Jim Rouse was even possible. The question that I want all of us to ponder over is, how can we keep the vision of people like Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington and Jim Rouse alive, while still building a culture that is capable of inspiring and creating new leaders whom we can celebrate?
I am reminded of a quote by Neale Donald Walsch: “There’s no ‘right way’ to do anything, there’s only the way you are doing it. Never be afraid to ‘try your hand’ because you don’t want to make a mistake or not do something ‘right.’ Success in life comes from being willing to move into uncharted territory. Always remember: life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” How appropriate! Maybe we are all primed for life because we find ourselves at the end of our comfort zones.
We are a week away from the end of this month that celebrates the enormous contributions of all the people of African descent. But I am also reminded of those who are not of African descent, those who have found within themselves the ultimate desire to uplift all of those at the bottom of human dignity.
It is Black History Month, and I celebrate Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington and many, many others, because each one is worth depth of our gratitude.