Black History Month (BHM) started as “Negro History Week” in 1926 under the leadership of Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The second week of February focused on coordinated efforts to teach Black history in our nation’s public schools. Then in 1970, black students and educators at Kent State University celebrated the first BHM, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized it during the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration, dedicating each February to black history.
For me, the month is time to remember and celebrate our progress and our success. I think of folks like Martin, Coretta, Malcolm, Medgar, Oprah, Aretha, Maya, Beyonce, Serena, Ava, Barack, Michelle, and so many more who exude our genius and have shared it with the world. I reflect on black women mayors like Keisha Lance Bottoms, Lori Lightfoot, LaToya Cantrell, Aja Brown, and London Breed, who serve their cities with brilliance, excellence and Black Girl Magic. I am indebted to fighters like John Lewis, those four little girls who perished in a Birmingham church bombing, Shirley Chisholm, Ruby Bridges, Elijah Cummings, Thurgood Marshall, Bryan Stevenson, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Stacey Abrams, and many more. I am grateful for those in my own backyard – Norm & Constance Rice, Larry Gossett, Charles Johnson, Carmen Best, Harold Scoggins, and Debra Entenman – all reminders that black greatness lives in Seattle and King County. I honor their accomplishments, while remembering each success came at a cost, yet they prevailed under the realities of racism, and every negative force created to stop them.
Despite the ugliness of slavery, segregation, and continued racial discrimination and bias, Black folks demonstrate a certain resiliency, love, hope, and faith that allows us to see and exercise goodness and excel in a country that has sanctioned violence and inequity against us. The month is reflective and purposeful in honoring American heroes, who make up the fabric of this country, while also recognizing the road to justice and freedom is long. In an election year, I reflect upon the fight for voting rights, the lives lost, those bloodied and bruised to secure the Voting Rights Act of 1965, while recognizing that voter suppression continues to deny voting rights today.
I reflect on my own life, now a 34 year old black woman, who’s done well by traditional standards, yet knows that freedom has not been won for me, my family, my friends, nor the rest of my people. Coretta Scott King once said, “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” I believe that true racial justice and freedom is economic justice. To truly celebrate black history, we have to look at the full picture. Seattle’s median income is $93,500, with white households at $105,100 and black households at $42,500. When will we solve this long standing racial earnings gap, one of the most lingering consequences of this nation’s racist history?
So this BHM, I am reminded of our faith and resiliency, and that we continue to live in what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now. “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” And until all black folks are free, free to be without fear, free to thrive without forces of oppression, none of us are truly free.
Karinda Harris is a proud Seattle native, growing up in the Beacon Hill and Madrona neighborhoods. She’s recently held community roles for New Seasons Market and for the City of Seattle, Office of the Mayor, and is committed to the betterment of her community. She has served on the Neighborhood House board of Directors since 2018.
By Karinda Harris, NH Board Member