The month of February is reserved for the celebration of black culture and contributions. During this month we profile dynamic black individuals, and focus our mainstream attention on their outstanding achievements. Young Americans in schools across the country meet George Washington Carver for the first time and taste his research subject, the peanut. Wartime veterans recall the bold strength of Tuskegee Airmen, while public spaces are friendlier thanks to people like Ms. Rosa Parks. On TV, black Americans are in public service announcements and Web links are added to link Web surfers to black culture Web sites. We remind ourselves of the impossible hardships of the Civil Rights leaders and once again mourn the death of the noble Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But what happens when February is over?
Do we forget all we have learned? Do school children put away their “ethnic colored” crayons and reach for the peach like they have for the past 11 months? Do TV producers continue to “symbolically annihilate” black characters and whitewash regular programming? Do the accomplishments of oppressed black scientists go back into the seasonal closest hoping to reemerge next year? Do we forget the oppression and bigotry of Americans?
For us to move forward as a civil society, we must not limit ourselves in the celebration of our culture, our past and our people. Black history should not be just a month, but rather a lifetime appreciation. It is not a holiday, or a trendy issue; it is who we are as Americans.
Everyday, people deserve the right to awaken with the strongest sense of freedom. A freedom many of our grandparents fought for or against, or knew little about. A freedom that is newer to the elderly and assumed by the youth. A freedom to be. A freedom to buy shoes, a freedom to drink from a fountain, a freedom to live a life with dignity and respect.
Will this freedom be forgotten when the month is over? Will the events of Sept. 11 make us forget how far we have come? Has the threat of terrorism paralyzed us to the fight for individual rights? Will we continue to forfeit our privacy as fear consumes our homeland? The essentials of civil rights are celebrated in February but are compromised the rest of the year.
Dr. King did not intend his dream to be celebrated in just one month, but everyday. Black history tells the story about a fearful nation that oppressed itself, and the citizens who set it free. It is many tales we should tell our children along with other bedtime stories and weave into the canvas of our future.
I am grateful for the civil rights movement. I am grateful to our ancestors that valued their dignity and freedom over the fear and vulnerability imposed on them. I am grateful for the justice we call equality.
I am grateful to be me. I am grateful to be free. I am grateful; I can be grateful.
When the month is over, ask yourself what are you going to do now? Will you forget the importance of black history and take for granted the people who have fought for your freedom? Black leaders did not just fight for black people, but for equality for all people.
Remember that when March begins.
Ben Sintas is a senior majoring in speech communication.