By: Marlon A. Smith, Ph.D., Senior Manager, Policy and Engagement
I confess that as the month of February approaches a deep internal conflict begins to stir inside of me. On one hand, the commencement of Black history month fills me with a great sense of joy and pride. I become inspired as a plethora of choices of movies, documentaries, and black cultural events highlight the remarkable achievements of black people both in the United States and around the world. However, on the other hand, I become saddened and worried that February is merely a blip in time on most of our calendars.
Sadly, too many people (including black people) treat February like an intrusive in-law who comes for their annual visit. As opposed to interacting and engaging with our guests, we spend our time trying to find ways to tolerate them and avoid them if at all possible. In treating Black History month like this, we fail to understand the value it offers our communities and our country. Ultimately this disengagement leaves us ill-informed on how we might approach many of the current issues impacting our society.
Indeed, Black History month not only teaches us about our not so distant past, but also it provides us tools to address many of the current challenges we face in both our local neighborhoods and our global community.
This is why I am excited about Neighborhood Center’s desire to strengthen our institutional investment in Houston’s diverse Black communities. Admittedly, this investment is not new. Since its founding in 1907, particularly the establishment of the Bethlehem Settlement House in 1918, BakerRipley has been engaged in addressing many of the issues within Black communities. On Martin Luther King Jr weekend we extended that investment by hosting Houston’s first MLK Empowerment Summit at Baker-Ripley. The summit brought community leaders, scholars, nonprofit organizations, and individuals from various parts of Houston’s communities together to honor the legacy of King. Participants came together to engage in critical dialogue and construct innovative ways we might address contemporary challenges on poverty, incarceration, racial diversity and more.
Strengthening the agency’s investment within black life and culture not only impacts how we think about our work going forward into the future, but also how that work is connected to a larger and more profound history. More importantly, this extended investment makes relevant the goal and mission of Black History month. For example, pausing to think about Mary McCleod Bethune and Booker T. Washington both informs our understanding of history and helps construct models for community education and neighborhood innovation. Reading about the Songhai and Ethiopian Empires gives us ways of thinking about democracy and community life.
Therefore, it is my sincere hope that as we commence with forums, cultural events, movie screenings and more for Black History month we examine how it informs the work we are currently doing. I hope by doing this it removes the idea that Black history is merely a blip in our calendar, and becomes a benchmark for the rest of our year.