As we embark upon another year of celebrating Black History Month, we do so at a grave moment in time that is perhaps as tumultuous, violent and pernicious a period as any we have experienced as a collective society. There truly is a lot going on.
Therefore, Black History Month 2021 confronts us with a challenge and opportunity like no other time.
With all the calamity, social upheaval, division, violence and unrest transpiring in our city and throughout the nation, my encouragement is that we adopt a Black History Month paradigm shift.
In this shift, we move from not only reflecting on past achievement but also on propelling future excellence. Looking forward, we begin to view Black History Month not only as an annual ritual to celebrate the past and affirm our dignity and worth, but also as a crucial period on the calendar where we cast inspiring visions, launch bold, innovative ideas, and aspire to new transcendent heights of achievement.
We approach Black History Month with an entirely new attitude and mojo: elevating aspirations and catalyzing excellence. It’s time to go on the offensive.
What if we established February and Black History Month as a signature marker on the calendar where we unveil and unleash the next big ideas, innovations and inventions?
Would you like to pay true homage to historic titans like Arna Bontemps, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, E. Franklin Frazier and Howard Thurman? Want to express a greater measure of gratitude to the scholar Carter G. Woodson, the pioneer who gifted us Black History Week, which ultimately evolved into Black History Month?
Salute these African American stalwarts by appreciating them and then launching a new enterprise in their honor. Write a book. Kick off a new venture. Announce your invention. Start a new business. Launch a citywide plan to increase African American high school graduation rates to record levels. Return to school and finish your degree or high school diploma.
Leverage Black history to launch some idea or enterprise of excellence, big or small.
What powerful, inspiring, captivating vision do you have for the future that could benefit others and uplift the human condition? How can you improve health? Employment? Education? Neighborhoods? Life? Youth? How can we use Black History Month to help transport the most impoverished to breathtaking heights? How do we use the foundational support of history to cast a bold, inspiring vision for Blacks of today and tomorrow?
Of great concern to me, how do we transform the lives of African American youth — en masse? Where is our Black History vision?
By reflecting on the tremendous accomplishments and feats of past trailblazers and pioneers and using the remarkable achievements of our ancestors as foundational catalysts from which we start significant initiatives and dreams, we could begin to heal, rebuild and transform the African American community and our nation.
Each year, we would look forward with great excitement and anticipation as Black History Month becomes synonymous with the implementation of fresh, imaginative ideas that enrich lives, build community and elevate humankind. The new ideas and innovations announced would be so inspiring, intrepid, cutting edge and consequential that society would begin taking note.
We would begin anticipating future Black History Month celebrations with enthusiasm and bated breath. This idea of using February to propel great, life-transforming ideas might even become informally known as Black History Launch!
Our society is presently steeped in chaos and crisis. Given this sobering reality, we can no longer afford for Black History Month to be virtually limited to celebrating our outstanding history. As powerful a role as history plays in informing and inspiring us, history, without more, will not save us. Too long a look backward blinds us to the vast sea of opportunities before us.
While it is great to celebrate African American history, it would be more compelling, transformative and empowering if we also lifted our communal sights higher and further and implemented bold, strategic ideas that result in dramatic change and uplift for youth, our city, our society and future generations.
Using Black History Month as a distinctive period to cast bold, aspirational vision and introduce inspiring ideas and discoveries would lead to remarkable progress and uplift for African Americans and for our entire community. A new community mindset based on launching excellence and pursuing inspiring, transformative goals would lead to results really worth celebrating.
What brilliant ideas, strategies and visions will we catapult into the future to build and heal our community?
Dennis Bland is president of the Center for Leadership Development and a 1982 CLD alumnus.