#AllAmericanPortraits Celebrates Black Americans

On this last day of February, as Black History Month comes to a close, I want to honor our fellow Black Americans. A single month is obviously insufficient, and yet, it can still serve as a reminder of all that we owe Black Americans, while also acknowledging that we have a long way to go to undo the generations of injustice, inequality, and oppression inflicted upon Black Americans.

The beginnings of Black History Month manifested originally in a week-long campaign initiated by Black American historian, Carter Godwin Woodson in 1926. He chose the month of February because it included the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln–both of whom played crucial roles in ending slavery in America. But it wasn’t until 1976 that President Gerald Ford officially established February as the month to nationally observe Black History Month.

Black History Month is intended to be a time during which America celebrates the countless contributions that Black Americans have made to this country.

Yet obviously, it is a complicated “celebration” here in America, rooted in slavery and segregation, oppression and brutality. And while institutionalized slavery was abolished over 150 years ago, legislated segregation ended only about 50 years ago. The ongoing and senseless deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement and fellow citizens, along with persistent disparities in areas such as income and education, as highlighted by Black Lives Matter and M4BL, all demonstrate that the Civil Rights Movement is far from over.

However, even in the face of such injustice, Black Americans continue to give to America in ways that have unequivocally bettered this nation. America would not exist as it does today without the (both voluntary and involuntary) contributions of Black Americans.

As February closes, I want to take note of my fellow Black American citizens. I want to honor them for their inspiring and tireless endurance, their beautiful and stunning resilience, for being trailblazers of civil rights and equality, from which people like myself have benefited and been permitted more opportunities.

For all the suffering overcome and continued persistence, this nation will never be able to sufficiently compensate or repay such a debt. I only hope that this nation will choose to listen, recognize and ultimately change–that we may truly honor the complex history and both past and present injustices and hardships that Black Americans must learn to navigate, and yet still overcome with such passion, beauty, and fortitude.

I want to give a special thank you to Trenee, Davidson, Nia, Darlene, and Trevor for adding their valuable voices and perspectives to this project. I honor you all, and I recognize all that you and your predecessors have given and continue to give to this imperfect nation. May we work together toward a more perfect union.

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