“Celebrating Black History: Past, Present and Future,” is intended to make you think. It should make you think, first of all, about how one goes about celebrating the past. After all, it is gone. It has already happened. So, what is there to celebrate?
What about the future? Do we know what it holds? Does it require a crystal ball? How do we celebrate that which we know nothing about? First, we must accept that we create the future.
We begin by celebrating the past because it is so true that we stand on a firm foundation, a foundation prepared for us by our ancestors, by our parents, and by many trailblazers who cleared paths for us. We must honor those who came before us because it was they who strengthened our resolve to produce this magnificent structure.
We must celebrate the ancestors for making all of the opportunities that we take for granted possible. Honoring them, by building on their accomplishments and standing on their strong shoulders is one way that we ensure that our past continues to impact, improve, and secure our present, and give rise to our future opportunities.
Our ancestors’ accomplishments are cause for celebration, because without them, where would we be? Many of you have said of the enslaved ancestors, “I would have rebelled!” “I could not have been a slave!” “I would have run away!” Well, I say to you, for all your talk and bravado, I am pretty certain that many of you would have done exactly what our ancestors did; and that is, whatever was necessary for your survival and your family’s survival. And so, we celebrate the ancestors for their tenacity, strength, courage, and the determination to persevere under the most extreme sub-human conditions.
We celebrate the present to acknowledge how far we’ve come. We honor and pay homage to leaders who, within our lifetimes and those of our parents, continued the struggles and endured beatings, lynchings, and attacks by vicious dogs – all for attempting to exercise their rights to vote, and receive the same level of education, work, and pay as their white counterparts.
We celebrate your parents and grandparents, who not quite 50 years ago, marched alongside Dr. King during the civil rights movement.
We celebrate your parents and grandparents, who were forced to stand and eat at the back doors of restaurants, and sit at the backs of busses and churches.
We celebrate your parents and grandparents, who endured the humiliation of being refused the right to try on clothes in department stores prior to purchasing them.
We celebrate their tenacity and courage to continue the struggle, which ensured that you would not be denied the opportunity to achieve the highest level of education, at the school of your choice.
We celebrate the future for the promise it holds. And that, colleagues, is where you come in. We have talked about your ancestors’, grandparents’ and parents’ struggles. Now, it is incumbent upon you to bring us to the next level. The struggles of those who came before you are not over. Not by a long shot. In many places, our people are just beginning to reap the benefits of those decades of struggling. There are quiet little communities throughout the nation where our people, TODAY, live in a segregated environment, and are denied the rights we fought so diligently for.
As we enter the second month of the New Year, let us all be mindful of its significance in African-American history. Although this month, which began as Negro History Week, was set aside for us to remember our past, we must not stop here. We cannot build a future by acknowledging it one month out of the year.
We must, on a daily basis, reinforce the foundation on which we continue to secure our legacy for future generations. Our fight must not end on February 28th. It must continue 365 days of the year, as we honor them, praise them, and REMEMBER them.
I challenge you, TODAY, to pick up the torch and light the path that was illuminated so long ago with the blood, sweat and tears of your ancestors and mine.
Marvalene Hughes, Ph.D.