by Stephanie Rodda
As a white mother of black children, I’ve intentionally changed how I live my life in many ways. I’ve had to stretch myself and step out of my comfort zone on purpose so that I can be the best parent I can be to my children. Decisions about where we live and which church we attend have been among those changes. This year I’m determined to change the way we celebrate Black History Month. Rather than the perfunctory observance, I want to do better for my children and for myself as well.
Learning and exploring new things is a great way to spend time together as a family. In my case, with adopted children, some of whom joined the family as older children, I am eager to make memories with them that we can call our own. It is also important to me that my children feel confident in who they are. I want to foster a sense of pride in their birth heritage which is different than mine.
For more than 40 years, every president of the United States has declared February as Black History Month, but its roots reach back over 90 years when historian Carter G. Woodson promoted Negro History Week which was to be observed the second week of each February. That week was significant because it fell between the birthdays of two significant men, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Why should we celebrate Black History Month?
Black History Month is about celebrating the accomplishments of African-American people. A prime example is the Tuskegee Airmen. Many people aren’t aware of the first African-American flying unit who was trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. One squadron, the 332nd Fighter Group, who fought in the European theatre during World War II, was one of the Army Air Forces’ most decorated escort groups.
This isn’t a celebration only to be observed by African Americans, but by all Americans. Black history is a part of our Alabama history and also a part of American history. And let’s face it, history matters. History matters because it reminds us of our mistakes so we can do better in the future. History matters because it reminds us of our victories and how far we have come.
Black History Month is an ideal way to grow closer together as a family, to increase your understanding of a culture that may be different from your own and to show respect for a people group who has not always been treated fairly or equally. We as parents can promote tolerance and diversity in our children by participating in meaningful ways in the observance of Black History Month.
Observing in Creative Ways
Black History Month doesn’t have to be all about facts and serious moments from the past. There are plenty of ways to play and dance and sing in your observance.
One of our favorite family games is Mancala. Mancala is a traditional game that is a fun way to enjoy black history and quite possibly the oldest game in the world. The wooden game with colorful game pieces can be purchased at many retail stores. It can also be made as a fun craft project out of such materials as egg cartons and sunflower or pumpkin seeds. This game promotes strategic thinking and is appropriate for young children while still challenging to adults.
Why not create a new family tradition of cooking and eating dishes that are new to you and considered traditional soul food such as sweet potato biscuits? Or perhaps a recipe such as sesame cookies because in Africa, sesame seeds are thought to bring good luck.
How much fun it would be to listen to the blues and trace the history of this unique style of music from its beginnings in the fields of the south to its global impact today? Perhaps focus on a music legend like B.B. King or Ray Charles. And while you’re listening to those soulful tunes, don’t forget to find a few gospel artists like The Blind Boys of Alabama. Then of course there are many female artists worth noting such as Mahalia Jackson, Cece Winans, and present-day Mandisa.
A simple internet search of African dance will find a large variety of resources such as videos and tutorials. Lively music, free-form dancing, energetic fun, it’s a win-win for the whole family. There are several web pages that are geared specifically for children.
Have you ever heard of the quilts of Gee’s Bend? The ladies who created the quilts produced unique and impressive works of art. They’ve become Alabama legends. What they managed to accomplish with limited resources is worth knowing about.
No matter how you decide to go about it, enjoy it. Make memories, explore new things and start new family traditions celebrating Black History Month.
Many of the most memorable moments of the Civil Rights Movement occurred right here in Birmingham, and we have a variety of notable locations to visit locally. Birmingham is full of opportunities to celebrate Black History Month. Alabama has a rich history of moments to remember. Visit:
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
- Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
- Kelly Ingram Park
- 4th Avenue Business District
- Bethel Baptist Church
If a family outing of this sort isn’t possible, there are other fun and meaningful ways to acknowledge the rich culture and heritage of African Americans. After all, there’s more to black history than the Civil Rights Movement.
A visit to your local public library or favorite bookstore can provide many educational books about black history. You might look for such titles as these. These are only a few of the many such books that are available.
- Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
- This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt
- Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
- The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
- Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
- Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
- Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson