Celebrating Black History Month

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CHARLOTTE – Every year during the month of February, the United States celebrates Black History Month: a time to recognizes the achievements of African Americans and the important role they have played in shaping the history of our country.

The origins of Black History Month date back to 1915, when Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, also known as the “Father of Black History,” envisioned a week-long celebration of Black history and culture.  He chose the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  

What was then known as National Negro History Week grew in subsequent decades with “Black History Month” being celebrated on several college campuses.  In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month and called on the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” 

Today, Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions of influential African Americans past and present from civil rights pioneers to modern day activists and historical and modern leaders across all areas of society.

Every year since 1976, the sitting President has not only recognized February as Black History Month but also endorsed a specific theme.  2022’s theme is “Black Health and Wellness,”  and it honors the contributions of black medical scholars and healthcare providers of all types.  Many consider this an especially timely theme as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a a crisis that has disproportionately affected minority communities, including African Americans

A great resource for learning more about Black culture and history right here in the Queen City is the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture.  Located in Uptown Charlotte on South Tryon Street, The Gantt Center celebrates excellence in Black Culture year round and offers a varied selection of targeted programming all month long.

  • Pay “Homage to the Black South” by participating in a 4-part virtual “Art & Culture Appreciation Series.”  Author, lecturer and founder of the online platform @SheLovesBlackArt Yvonne Bynoe will facilitate weekly interviews and panel discussions with artists and art enthusiasts.  This free, virtual program meets Wednesdays in February from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
  • On Friday, February 18, experience “Southern Culture on a Plate” with an interactive multi-course dining experience crafted by renowned chef Santana Burriss.  Tickets are $75, and guests must show proof of vaccination or negative COVID test to attend.
  • On Saturday, February 19, take a photography masterclass with legendary photographer Jamel Shabazz.  This one-hour class for beginning and intermediate photographers is open to ages 16+, and registration is $10.
  • On Saturday, February 26, learn to blend songwriting, sound and composition under the direction of musical sensation Jason Jet.  A workshop for music lovers of all backgrounds and experience levels “Family First: R&B Tech” is for ages 13+, and the cost is $10.

To learn more about the Gantt Center’s Black History Month programming or to plan a visit to the Center, visit https://www.ganttcenter.org/

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is offering a wide array of Black History Month events geared toward all different age groups.  Here’s a small sample of what you can take advantage of through your local library this month:

  • Enjoy stories, songs and movement activities that support empathy and understanding of issues affecting Black children and families through “I Can Read Black Stories.”  Held every Saturday at 11:00 am, this storytime for ages 0-5 features books that center characters who are Black or people of color, and offers strategies to foster conversations about equity and inclusivity.  
  • Preteens and teens can participate in a “Black History Month Talking Circle” on Thursday, February 17, at 6:00 pm.  Teens will engage in discussion on topics such as racism, racial equality and racial justice and work together to identify barriers and workable solutions to create an inclusive community.
  • Parents can enjoy a meaningful “Lunch & Learn Panel Discussion” on Wednesday, February 23, titled “How to Talk About Race with Kids.”  Beginning at 12:00 pm, representatives from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice will help parents understand terminology to use when discussing race with their children and strategies for creating inclusive and meaningful conversations at home.

All library programming is currently virtual.  Library programs are always free of charge, but many require registration.  Visit https://www.cmlibrary.org/ for more details on everything happening at your local library.

You don’t have to attend a lecture or visit a museum to participate in Black History Month.  There are many simple ways to make sure you are honoring Black achievements in your own community, not just in the month of February but year-round.

  • Support Black-owned businesses in your local community.  Start with the Mint Hill Times and Tri-W’s 2021 features on Black-owned businesses in the Mint Hill and Waxhaw areas.
  • Seek out and donate to charities and organizations that support equality and anti-racism equity.
  • Purchase and read books by Black authors; moreover, share what you’re reading with family, friends and on social media.
  • Watch films or TV shows by Black creators.  Netflix even has a “Black Lives Matter” category featuring films and TV shows centered around the “Black experience in America.”
  • Listen to, learn about and share music created by Black artists.  Spotify’s ongoing Black History Is Now campaign celebrates the songs and artists that have shaped our culture on a global scale.
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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: marybeth@minthilltimes.com