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CEO Notes February 2018

CEO Notes February 2018

Views from the Front Porch: Celebrating Black History Month by Dr. Imani Woody, President and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc. Views from the Front Porch will communicate on issues trending among older LGBTQ/SGL people and our allies.

February 2018
Celebrating Black History Month: Who’s Writing the Celebratory Remarks?

Happy Black History Month! What comes to mind for you? Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech? Ms. Rosa Parks, a tired seamstress, who refused to give up her seat? The Black Panthers, a militant group? Fannie Lou Hammer? Bayard Rustin? Richard Wright?

What is becoming very clear to me in my 50+ years of celebrating Black History Month is that the depiction of many of our sheroes and heroes, icons and plain folks have been misrepresented, often as caricatures. Their feats of strength and character are omitted and/or played down.  Let’s look at three examples here.

You probably know that the Black History Month evolved from Black History Week that was created in 1926 by historian, author and advocate, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Did you know Mr. Carter is Doctor Carter and received his PhD from Harvard? However, the images that often come to mind when thinking of him are his work with peanuts as a peanut farmer. But folks, he was much more than that. In 1915, he and Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or the ASALH), an organization intent on finding and sharing the history Black folks had made to this country? He wrote the Mis-Education of the Negro, that is still considered a must read.

And of course, Ms. Rosa Parks? Many of us think she just went to the bus stop, tired that evening working as a seamstress and sat down, not giving up her seat.  What is not widely published is that Mrs. Rosa Parks was a member of the NAACP, (that was handling the Emmitt Till case). She was not an old lady – she was only 42, when she refused to leave her seat, and she had attended the Highlander Folk school, that was dedicated to training activists. In My Story, her autobiography, she states:
People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

And what about the Black Panther Party? The Black Panthers started as an organization to watch the police who were brutalizing and killing Black people with impunity. They promoted economic freedom, empowerment and the inherent beauty of Black People. In addition, they FED the children through its Free Breakfast for Children Program in all the cities where they had chapters. There were international chapters. Many, Black Panther Party members were brutally maligned and murdered through actions of the FBI . Herbert Hoover called them “without question…the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” He launched a thorough, targeted campaign of surveillance, intimidation, exploitation, harassment, and in some cases violence, to destroy the organization.

Chicago police remove the body of Fred Hampton, leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party,
who was slain by police as he lay in bed in his Chicago apartment on Dec. 4, 1969. (AP Photo)

Let’s “stay woke.” Recognize that there may be something missing or incorrect in the information put forth to us to digest and to celebrate. Understand that the work toward freedom is ongoing. Remember, we stand on the shoulders of many who have come before us because freedom is not free.