SAIS Europe reflects on Black History Month

By Fatou Sow

BOLOGNA, Italy – Dr. Carter G. Woodson said, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” 

The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, founded by Dr. Carter Woodson, launched Negro History Week in 1915. Black History Month was first celebrated in 1970 at Kent State University. In addition to highlighting the importance of Black history being a critical piece of American history, the goal was also to celebrate prominent Black figures often underrepresented in the recounting of that history. The SAIS Observer sat down with a few students to get their thoughts on what the month means to them.

Sabrina Newton, first-year student from Barbados:

“Black history month is a celebration of resilience. Four hundred years ago, our ancestors endured unthinkable pain and anguish when they were taken from their communities and sold as cattle. Sixty years ago, our people joined hands to fight for the right to be treated like human beings, a right that should go without saying. Today, as I travel across the world, I face much of the same discrimination my predecessors faced. Black History Month is a reminder that we are not alone in our struggles. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. While much has been done, there is so much more to do.”

Yann Ehrhard, first-year student from France, with French and Ivorian heritage:

“As a European, Black History Month is something new to me. In Europe, we do not celebrate diversity the way North America does. As a result, Black History Month is interesting because it is a way to learn more about the United States. Specifically, it enables me to reflect on the contentious race relations in the U.S. and how members of the Black community – despite significant challenges – greatly contributed to the improvement of American society.”

Jelani Williams, first-year student from California, with Guyanese roots:

“Black History Month is first and foremost about ancestor veneration, reflecting upon those that came before us and the sacrifices that have been made for people in the Black diaspora to be where they are right now. It’s about education, becoming more informed of not only one’s ancestral roots but also of other people’s intersectionality within the Black community and how they identify themselves. It’s about being able to look within yourself and find the confidence in your blackness that has been bestowed upon you. Knowing that you have worth. I think, as someone who is a part of the Black diaspora, Black History Month is a time to feel empowered. Being Black and existing as a Black person, you should feel empowered and you should be proud that there are systems that work against that. Black History Month is a reminder that we do have power and to justify our existence from the fight that others have made in order for us to be here right now. Lastly, I think Black History Month should also be a time for social cohesion, especially in this time of unrest, globally. It’s important to build community, whether that’s through your neighborhoods, if that’s domestically or internationally. Because Black History Month was created in the United States, it’s important for people of African descent in the United States to branch out into the larger Black diaspora, internationally, and be more informed on your African roots and ancestry.”

      Black History Month is a time to learn, to grow and to educate. Although it was created in the United States, it has spanned across countries and continents for many years. As 2019 marked the “Year of Return”, commemorating 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, it is crucial in 2020 and beyond to reflect on the trials and tribulations and celebrate the greatness that has come from it in this new decade. 

Black History Month Fact: Cathay Williams was the one and only female Buffalo Soldier. She posed as “William Cathay” in order to enlist in the 38th infantry in 1866. She served two years before a doctor discovered that she was a woman, leading to her discharge.

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