I grew up in an era of raised fists and dashikis and Afro pics in the colors of the African flag worn in defiantly large Afros. With phrases like “Black is Beautiful” and “Black Power” uttered in public for the first time, affirmation was in the air and a sense that we could do anything. James Brown’s “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” was topping the R & B charts.
Black History Month was a scant week during which my brothers and I would write reports on George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker.
Our parents taught us we were less than no one. But also, that because we were Black, we had to work twice as hard, be twice as smart as our lackluster white classmates to achieve, perhaps, half as much. Still, achievement was what was important. For us, victory lay not in dismantling systems of oppression, but in succeeding despite them.
Fast forward to January 2009 when Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States, making real the abstract idea that any child — even Black ones — could one day be President. “Yes, we can,” he said. And yes, we did. Once again, affirmation was in the air and a sense that we could do anything.
Fast forward again to Jan. 20, 2017 when a demented racist man-child became the 45th President of the United States. His agenda is hateful and simple: erase Obama’s legacy; enrich himself; shore up and reinforce systems of oppression to persuade us we cannot achieve to drive us into the servitude of failure.
Black History Month 2020’s theme is “African Americans and the Vote,” in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) which granted women the right to vote, and the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) which secured the right to vote for Black men.
We can use this Black History Month to remind ourselves we can achieve; we are not powerless. We can vote. One by one until our numbers are too big to ignore. We can use our collective voting power like a terrible swift sword to remove from power those acting against us and elect those who share our values, and who support our interests. Yes, we can.
We must vote. Not just in the upcoming presidential election but in every election — every congressional election, every election at the state and city level, for those are the folks who represent us, who write the laws that guide and control the president. We must recognize voting is not a right or a privilege, it is an obligation — a sacred obligation. We owe it to the generations behind us and to the generations ahead of us — and yes, damnit, we owe it to ourselves — to vote.
Let Black History Month 2020 be our call to action. See you at the polls in April and November.