Group Care Foster Care

Black History Month

Black History Month

As a child growing up in the State of Kansas, I became aware of the lack of diversity that existed within my community at an early age. I believed in equity, and I felt a sense of belonging amongst my peers. However, I learned the meaning of racism from interacting with parents of my non-black peers.

I learned the meaning of discrimination through participation in certain extracurricular activities. I gained an understanding of unconscious bias in the friendly remarks of others concerning my hair, my skin, and my lips.  Outside of my church community, I was often “the only”… the only black girl in a class, the only black girl in all-city choir,  the only black girl selected to participate in an all-state competition.

On more than one occasion, my presence was the sole representation of diversity within a group or entity. Instead of focusing on “not fitting in,” my parents instilled a strong Christian foundation and taught me how to celebrate my identity.

They were intentional about exposing me to the history and rich culture of African Americans. They also provided me with much affirmation and reassurance needed to confidently love myself, love others, and trust God.  We celebrated Black History Month and attended community events throughout the year that celebrated monumental moments and figures, such as Juneteenth and Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I think about my earliest experiences around Black History Month, I think of the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson.  Growing up, I thought the purpose of the month of February was to revere Black History Month and sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Lift Every Voice and Sing
By James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God, True to our native land.

My parents were purposeful in their exposure.  We watched movies and documentaries, read books, and traveled to visit historical sites and museums.  I had to know “from whence I came,” and I had to know the lyrics of that song… that LONG song.

The song was sung with such passion and strength.  I can remember feeling chills as this song was sung at church, at community events, Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration services, and for no reason at all. I learned the words, but I can also recall the first time that I read the lyrics and allowed the meaning of the words to take up residence in my heart and in my spirit.

It was at that time that I felt proud.  Proud to be a young black girl, the legacy of people who were creators and builders of this great country, and the benefactor of a people who have had to overcome adversity and fight for equality — all while maintaining strength and grace.   These early experiences shaped my identity as a woman, as a Christian, as a black woman, and as an American.

For more than a century, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has held a powerful place not only in black history, but also in American history. When we look at the meaning behind the lyrics, we can deduct that the song opens with a command to praise with a spirit of optimism. The second verse urges that we never forget the suffering and obstacles of the past. The third and final stanza reminds us to trust God in faith with perseverance and courage as we prepare for future challenges.

As parents and caregivers, it is valuable and necessary that we equip our children with knowledge of history.  This knowledge creates a heart of thanksgiving for the journey of a people that fought for freedoms we enjoy today.

When I consider the why behind my parents’ efforts to expose and educate me and my sister on topics relevant to black history, I begin to think about children growing up in homes with adopted or foster parents who differ in ethnicity. Like me, these children are attending schools and social outings in settings where they are the minority.

These children are also attending churches and residing in neighborhoods where they are the “the only”. As providers of care to black and brown children, it is so important to acknowledge, educate, and bring awareness to race and ethnicity. Black History Month is a designated time to explore and celebrate the past and present contributions of African Americans in the United States.

It is the perfect time for parents to encourage their children to embrace their heritage, explore their history, and educate their home as a whole on African American culture and identity.  These efforts can help minimize feelings of shame, embarrassment, and confusion.  These practices can lend to building a positive self-identity, inner confidence, cultural awareness, and racial pride.

The following list includes a few suggestions on how to facilitate your family’s growth and knowledge of African American history while celebrating Black History Month:

Learn History

Plan a family outing to visit a local African American museum | Spend the month of February assigning 1-page reports onfFamous African American “firsts” or inventors. | Listen to speeches of different African American leaders. A few authors to consider include: Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, and Frederick Douglass. | Read books on topics relevant to Black history. A few titles to consider include: Little Legends and Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison, Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, and I am Enough by Grace Beyers.

Plan Activities

Host family movie nights. Plan to watch age-appropriate movies or documentaries and include time for post-movie discussion on themes that emerge from the film. A few titles to consider include: The Long Walk Home, Roots, The Help, Hidden Figures, Selma, Eyes on the Prize, Mighty Times: The Children’s March, Freedom Riders, and A Class Divided: The Jane Elliott Experiment. | Plan a family outing to visit a local African American museum. | Attend a church service or community celebration that celebrates the contributions of different African American pioneers.

Find Community

Help the children in your home find role models that share their culture. | Visit a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) to introduce children and adolescents to the history and opportunities of higher education that were specifically created for African Americans.

As caregivers, it is our responsibility to facilitate the process of a child developing a positive racial identity.  Caregivers are encouraged to nurture a child’s racial identity through internal and external supports.

These supports could include access to Black role models and peers within the community and school, as well as focused attention to developing racial identity in the home.  Celebrating Black history for the children in our homes is the reclamation of the strength and power in one’s identity.  Let us pull up a chair at the table and begin planting seeds to instill knowledge, confidence, and pride in our children.

Spending time as a family reading, watching, or discussing topics of social justice, classism, racism, and sexism is enriching and empowering. Gaining an appreciation of differences and being able to see the humanity in others builds tolerance, heart, and unity.