As a child I can remember looking forward to Black History now simultaneously called African American History Month. It was a time of conversations, or reports about famous black people and their contributions to humankind. I am reminded of the programs that would go on and the attention that was given to sharing the struggles and success of a group of people that although black, were always Americans.
I have spent a good part of my adult life studying inclusion. As Dr. Maya Angelou suggests in her poem,Human Family, “we are more alike my friend, than we are unlike.” How then have we come to differentiate American history with respect to race? In the work that I do as a diversity practitioner, we sometimes suggest that the goal is to work ourselves out of a job. With that suggestion comes the realization that we would no longer need to accentuate our differences and seek to understand similarities because they would have all been integrated.
I think the same thing might be said about our need for a period of time dedicated to the discovery, conversation, and sometimes lively debate around those individuals whom, for one reason or another, have not been included in our history records of note. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to move beyond what we think we know and be willing to move into an area of the unknown and sometimes mysterious?
I recently attended a pre-opening reception for the National Museum of African American History and Culture slated for construction on the Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2012. At the reception, there was an exhibit called, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello…A Paradox of Liberty. The exhibit showcased the paradox of the American Revolution and the fight for liberty in an era of pervasive slavery. The work examines the dilemma of slavery in the United States as well as the lives of the enslaved. It’s serves as a reminder of the duality that exists in our lives. In fact, Jefferson was a man who believed that liberty and equality were human rights, yet he was actually a slave owner himself.
This year I invite you to have the courage to share a story, or experience that brings the importance of understanding our black or brown brothers and sisters as we all try to be better stewards of the promise of liberty and equality for all. Remember, in the words of Dr. Angelou, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Until the time that we have so integrated African American or Black History into our collective history/herstory – just like the diversity work I do – we will continue to acknowledge difference until full inclusion is the standard of the day.