For years now I have fully appreciated the thought behind celebrating Black History Month. At least that was until I saw a beautiful painting of a young black woman on Facebook with a caption, “I am black every month.” That caption led me into deep reflective moments. I have to say, since then, it has become a month to reflect on the lack of progress rather than the celebration of individual accomplishments. As a people we are still very much in triage.
I know the intention is to inspire. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), established in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, comes up with a theme each year. This year it is “Black Health and Wellness.” Last year was “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” and in 2020 it’s “African American and the Vote.” As I reflect on our health and wellness I am not inspired. Far from it. Looking back to last year and thinking of the Black Family, what a wretched heartbreak. In 2021 the year begun with the tragic loss of the Alyse (age 9) and Ava (age 6) Williams at the hands of their father.
Gun violence comes in many forms. In Chicago I would have to say there is, at its roots, a poverty of empathy. So much energy is spent on condemning gang violence and less time on why gangs find certain neighborhoods to be fertile ground. We have statistics. We know the median income for these neighborhoods. We know there is no access to health. We know their schools are poorly funded. We know they are food deserts. And yet with all that knowledge we repeatedly say to those living in these neighborhoods: “Make good choices.” They say a person is a ‘sum of their choices.’ Theirs is a financial and lack of resource type of poverty but for the rest of us it is a poverty of empathy.
Most certainly if one knew the other 11 months of the year were spent changing policies, we would be doing all we can to bring possibility to the young African Americans growing up now and I would not struggle with Black History Month as I do. It seems to me that we are celebrating in a vacuum. We are cherry picking the accomplishments of the few while doing the bare minimum for the many. The very same barriers to entry that existed when Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of a dream, are still very much in place today.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
National Board Member and Chair of the National Multicultural & Diversity (MCD) Committee
Member of Voice of the Poor National Committee