The Importance of Black History

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Blog Author | Ken James | Director of Inclusion

This post was written by Ken James, Director of Inclusion for the Grand Rapids Chamber, in recognition of Black History Month.

Working on behalf of the Grand Rapids Chamber as Director of Inclusion, it is my honor to write about the significant contributions black Americans have made in the United States as we celebrate Black History Month. Although only recognized in the month of February, the celebration of these contributions to our country should be recognized year-round.

As I reflect on growing up on the West Coast and attending a traditional public school, I remember there was very little mentioned in the U.S. history lessons about people who looked like me. I recall hearing about Crispus Attucks, as he fired the first shot in the American Revolution but, overall, there was very little spoken about slavery and the impact it had on this country. I do remember a small section on the 1960s Civil Rights movement in my textbook, which mentioned Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as two key figures in the movement.

Upon graduating high school and going away to college at Kentucky State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU), I came to realize how little I knew about my own history. It further occurred to me that I was only beginning to understand on a larger scale that many contributions made to this country by people who looked like me were left unidentified. I did not have heroes I could identify with and look up to in this regard.

What further personified this revelation for me was the release of the 1997 movie “Amistad.” The movie is based on a true and significant moment that took place during America’s slave trade. The thought came to me that I was not familiar with this historical moment. From there, I began researching and discovering many other countless incidents instrumental in shaping black history that I was unfamiliar with.

For these revelations, I am so thankful for my HBCU experience; however, this is further evidence that so much more needs to be done in recognizing and acknowledging the history of blacks in this country. If we, as people of color, have no idea of the influence our people had in shaping this country, what does this do to us subconsciously?

We all need our heroes and naturally seek individuals to aspire to. This does not only apply to those of us who are the descendants of slaves, but to everyone. We, as a people, should know how our contributions have shaped this country. As a father of three daughters, I want to be confident that equity in education and school curriculums reflect the students our educators are intended to reach and teach.

In closing, I would like to see this country evolve to celebrating and recognizing all contributions black Americans have made in the U.S. – not just during Black History Month but year-round.


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