Honoring Black History Month is especially poignant for me. As a Black woman, I am aware that Black history, with its strong foundation of firsts by many people, is one reason why Possip can exist today. That’s why I wanted to write up a BHM 101 guide to give an overview of the history of the month and how we can celebrate.
I am so excited to share the rich history of Black Americans with you. To kick us off, here’s some basic information about how Black History Month started and how to engage your child and school.
What is Black History Month (BHM)?
Black History Month exists because of Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Dr. Woodson was an American historian, journalist, and author. The second Black person after W. E. B. DuBois to earn a PhD from Harvard, he dedicated his life to promoting the achievements of Black people. In 1915, he founded what is now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. His work with this organization led him to designate the second week of February as “Negro History Week” in 1926.
The event inspired communities nationwide to host cultural events highlighting Black excellence, and mayors everywhere increasingly adopted the week-long recognition of Black culture. The civil rights movement of the 1960s and a growing sense of Black identity helped turn the week into a month-long celebration. Since 1976, every US president has designated February as Black History Month.
Why is Black History Month the shortest month of the year?
This is a frequent joke and question, particularly in the Black community. Knowing the historical context here is important. When Dr. Woodson created Black History Week in 1926, he specifically chose the week that encompassed the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln—two pivotal contributors to Black freedom. Black History Week eventually became Black History Month, but the dates still incorporate the two birthdays. (Also, let’s be real—February needs all the celebratory help it can get.)
How do people celebrate Black History Month?
The best way to celebrate Black History Month is by weaving the contributions of Black people into everyday learning. But the beauty of BHM is that there are diverse ways to celebrate! Even reading this article counts. We’ll share some tips and ideas on the Possip website this month if you’re looking for creative ideas to learn or teach about the Black experience, but a couple of quick thoughts are to read books by Black authors or watch a documentary about Black history. Because of Them We Can has a BHM Challenge. Check it out here!
Do people who aren’t Black celebrate Black History Month?
Absolutely! It is essential that non-Black people celebrate this month. Black contributions to America are clear, concrete, and overwhelmingly overlooked. By celebrating BHM, you can open up a broader conversation and curiosity about Black people—and about other cultures, because lots of stories are not included in what is considered “American” or “World” history. Celebrating BHM is an amazing way to highlight the individual and collective stories of cultural groups that are missing from history books.
How can I support my child in learning about BHM?
Follow your child’s interests! There are important contributions by Black people in every field. If your child is into science and engineering, research some famous Black engineers. If your child likes music, you can look for musicians from your state or city.
My child’s school isn’t teaching anything about Black History Month. What should I do?
It is a missed opportunity when schools don’t engage with Black History Month. If your school doesn’t announce any plans to observe Black History Month, you can communicate your desire for Black History Month activities!
I recommend something like:
SCRIPT: Thank you for all you are doing to support our students at this time. I wanted to check in about any plans for celebrating Black history month. I’m excited for my child to learn more about the important contributions of Black people to the world and hoped to have some of this come from school. Are there plans? If not, can I help in any way?
My child’s school is teaching about BHM – and I’m not comfortable with it. What should I do?
As parents, we cede some control over what our children learn when we open them up to the world. But that learning is also a gift. It’s very important to create space for your children to learn about the contributions of the diverse people in this country.
If you are uncomfortable with your child’s school teaching Black History Month, stop and consider why. Are you uncomfortable highlighting the contributions of Black people specifically? Do you worry the school won’t do a great job with this topic?
Whatever your concerns are, try reaching out to the school. When you do, I recommend being curious, seeking to understand, and being open and solutions-oriented. A note to your school might sound something like:
SCRIPT: Thank you for all you are doing to support our students this time. My child shared a bit about the plans for Black History Month. I’d love to learn more, as I’m a bit uncomfortable with what I am hearing. Can we set up some time to talk?
Part of why I’m sharing a recommendation for different perspectives is because Possip hears feedback from parents with diverse perspectives. We think it’s important to acknowledge and create space for different perspectives and diverse contributions.
And in that, we celebrate Black History Month – as we celebrate the contributions and perspectives of diverse people.