By Patrick A. Howell
Each February, Black History Month is a tricky one for me.
Last week was the 56th anniversary of the assassination of the proud Muslim American Malcolm X as well as the birth date of the political aesthetician Nina Simone. I am lifted to see all the incredible graphic posts, like confetti, of author Toni Morrison, actor Sidney Poitier, Congressman John Lewis (his birthday is also in Feb.) on Instagram and social media.
Then there are all of the new creative spirits as the young Generation Z’er and effervescent Amanda Gorman gracing the cover of Time magazine triumphant in egalitarian gold and red. The cover titled “Black Renaissance” echoing the Harlem Renaissance precisely 100 years in 1921. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was a highwater mark of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ inauguration only a few weeks ago:
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
Her words have had an enduring resonance and will leave a legacy in the decades and century to come just as Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” did at the inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton evoking the onset of the 21st century.
Even as Ms. Gorman’s words were spoken as poetry, they have the echoes of a new constitution or declaration of independence in the third decade of the young millennium; free from the rank spirit of mediocrity we are sometimes mired in as a nation. Her fiercely bright spirit is not unlike spirits of the beautiful freedom marchers who took to streets nationally in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. George Floyd’s spirit rose triumphant from the weight of a racist fascist cop’s hulking dysmorphic body and, as his daughter exclaimed, changed the world.
So many creatives — millions — imbued with melanin, have done this work with their lives in America since 1619. Again and again and again. There are so many but to name a few more:
Benjamin Banneker (Nov. 9, 1731 to Oct. 9, 1806) American almanac author, surveyor, landowner and farmer who had knowledge of mathematics and natural history.
Frederick Douglass (Feb. 1818 to Feb. 20, 1895) American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.
Mary McLeod Bethune (July 10, 1875 to May 18, 1955) American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist.
Matter of fact, for 12.5% of the US population, the contributions of my ancestors to the United States of America are staggering, particularly upon considering the terroristic conditions of citizenship — a 400-year journey from slavery to Jim Crow to the systemic racism and institutional discrimination of the 21st century.
It is simply miraculous. Aren’t the contributions of Black Americans really the singular story of America’s story as a nation of principles and ideals? Liberty? Life? Pursuit of Happiness?
Our lives are certainly emblematic of the hallowed words enshrined by slave-holding framers of the US Constitution:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
These words mean something when represented by citizens who have found ways to not only survive but also thrive in these United States of America; denizens who have found a way through the worst of America to become examples of her best.
During Black History Month aren’t we really just celebrating our American history and culture? The very best traditions of our American and global culture? One enobled and victorious.
Happy American History Month, Carlsbad. I love mine black.
Patrick A. Howell, an award-winning financier and author, is the president and co-founder of Victory & Noble, a global storytelling and media company.