this day in black history . . .

the more you know

Growing up, I never knew the true history of my Blackness.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I grew up knowing what a cook out was, and that you never - EEV-VAAA - put raisins in any damn thing (I am looking at you, Karen, who showed up with the same potato salad you left with). I spent countless hours in the hair salon, a wasted Saturday, or so I thought at the time. Although a recent episode of “Black-ish” reminded me of how sacred that time truly was for my education!

I grew up playing Spades, jumping double-dutch (even though I could never master those two demon ropes), and countless Sundays in church where we would pray for the 5-hour service to end so we could eat! I knew what it meant when a house shoe was thrown at me or when my auntie would instruct me to grab a switch (fyi – smaller is not better in this scenario). I saw my cousins and aunties get the Holy Ghost when their “jam” came on and I know that Teddy and Luther were responsible for a few of my cousins. Just saying.

I also grew up attending countless funerals of dead loved ones who had succumbed to bullets or needles, police brutality, or the side effects of being Black in America. I know that my father died when I was only a year and a half, a side effect of being a Black man who encountered a white police officer. I know that my white mother lost jobs and apartments because of who she loved and because she had me. I know that there were “friends” whom I could no longer play with because of the color of my skin. And I grew up knowing that the justice system was not made for me, but because of me.

I know that history, my history, but I never really truly knew “Black History” and, apparently, neither did a great deal of my Black family. Perhaps it was too painful? Or maybe they were just too busy trying to figure out how to maneuver in this ‘free’ world that going back was too hard.

What I learned about slavery at an early age was my mother having me sit and watch Roots. I don’t remember if it was in one sitting or if we broke it up, but yes, that is how my white mother educated me about slavery. In the end she just told me it was a horrible thing that happened but it was over. Just over. No explanation on so many things that came after. I just knew that the lives for Black folks changed after Kunta Kinte rebelled.

And school was not any better. I learned that Malcom was bad and violent, Martin was peaceful and good, Ruby was “brave” to be under constant fear of simply wanting an education, and Rosa was a saint for not giving up her seat. I was taught that the Black Panther Party were terrorists, that only lazy Black people lived in the “ghetto” (e.g., poverty) and looking for nothing but handouts, not honest and hard work. I also learned that they were all on drugs. They suffered from self-induced misery that if they would just get a job and follow the rules, their lives would be so much better off for it. This was the dichotomy of me growing up.

It wasn’t until after I left high school and, while in college, I learned the truth about Malcom, understood that Martin had a dark side, Ruby should not have had to have been brave, and that was not Rosa’s first ride on the resistance train. I also learned that the Black Panther Party was, in fact, a community organization that began to help a community long forgotten and routinely mistreated. They were created to protect Black folks from police brutality, provide hot meals and intervention to Black children and strengthen the Black community with a common purpose. It wasn't until this time that I learned about the true impact of the Reconstruction and how the effects reverberated till the present day.

I should have learned this in school. I didn’t. My mother should have been more engaged in making sure I knew that part of my history. She wasn’t. There should have been more accurate representations of the wonders and beauty of Black people presented on the screen, in magazines and books. There weren’t.

Now that I am a mother, I realize the importance of making sure that my children know their true history. All of the beauty and the pain. So as I continue on my journey of learning a lifetime of unknown things, I hope you will join me.

The premise behind This Day in Black History is that I will highlight notable Black women and men, legal issues, civil rights leaders and struggles, culture, business and educational milestones that have been an untold part of Black History.

I hope that together, we can learn new things, refresh our memories on things we have forgotten, but more importantly, we will be able to see some of the amazing people who accomplished incredible things during a time when it was a fight just to be alive.

So, on this day in Black History this is what happened . . .