In 1976, the United States government officially acknowledged February as an annual celebration of noted Black historians, scholars, educators, and publishers. Growing up, school days for me during the month of February meant learning about historical Black figures like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The posters commemorating these important historical Black figures would go up and we’d be required to dive into heavy research on who these people were and what they did. But just as quickly as the posters went up at the beginning of February, they disappeared when the calendar turned over to March 1. As earnest as our research had been, once February ended, these historical figures were basically forgotten.
February is a wonderful time to reflect on the lives of Black Americans and the remarkable contributions they had on society. It’s a time to teach kids about American history. It also presents a great time for local media to highlight the “heroes” of their respective communities. But I have a love/hate relationship with this month because I believe it should be more than month long. I wonder if there’s a different, perhaps even better, way for Christians to approach embracing the historical significance of Black Americans and culture.
Set Aside, But Not Equal
I don’t mean to suggest that Christians withdraw from the celebration of Black History Month in culture at large. By all means, we should honor worthy heroes along with the mainstream. But the better way I’m suggesting—the Christian approach—is to celebrate Black history throughout the whole year.
Many of us have a real desire for racial harmony. But cramming our heads full of history for one month won’t necessarily build a broad awareness of the issues our country still faces. If anything, the fact that we have this one month segregated from the other 11 reminds us that we’re still a long way from real reconciliation.
Personally, the experience I had growing up made me sense the topic of Black history to be less important than others. We set aside a month for study and then bleached any further mention or learning for the rest of the year. It seemed like filling a quota—we were doing something that was assigned, but wasn’t worthy of learning about for more than 28 days.
But I think, for American Christians, there are deeply compelling reasons to learn beyond February. Here are two reasons why studying our country’s history and important African Americans has year-long significance:
We gain perspective.
Getting to know our shared history throughout the year can help us gain understanding and perspective. Specifically, in the church, it could be a means of building community and helping us learn how to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). Bearing the burden of another is a way to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:39). Our nation’s history of oppression and segregation continues to carry a sting for many, both white and black. Understanding the gravity of the situation can only help us in relating to the pain so many still carry.
Knowledge and understanding of this history can be a catalyst for open dialogue. Of course, we wouldn’t want to assume that knowledge equates to full understanding, but it can help. Furthermore, and possibly most importantly, this knowledge can display a genuine interest in and love for others (when done as unto the Lord).
This knowledge could have eternal significance as well, it could lead to opportunities to share the gospel.
We welcome greater diversity in our homes.
I thank God for my parents and their desire for us as their kids to know about other cultures. But that’s not all they were teaching us. By exposing us to the pain of our history, they also taught us to forgive and love. My father in particular is the reason why I am so passionate about reconciliation and believe that it is possible. He taught us to love our neighbor—even though it wasn’t a conscious Bible teaching. We had an open door policy, so to speak. It started at home. That’s where it begins. It begins with a conversation over the dinner table.
We can all benefit from learning and discussing history, especially as it relates to culture in the United States. Learning about culture can open the doors for hospitality in our homes.