February is Black History Month, and as my husband Craig, a retired school teacher, used to tell his students, “we should not wait for one month each year to recognize the contributions of Black Americans, we should be recognizing these contributions all year round.” Nonetheless, this month it is critical that we heighten our focus on Black culture and contributions given the events of the past year.
Many of us have been brought to tears as we reflect on the treatment of Black people in our country. The news has been sobering. We can no longer ignore the grave disparities in how we mete out justice based on the color of our skin. Nor can we ignore the disparate impact the pandemic has had on lives sacrificed and on jobs lost disproportionately by our Black neighbors, colleagues and friends. They do not weep alone; many of us outside the Black community have long advocated for radical change. Now, even more of us are looking in the mirror and wondering, “Have I done enough?”
Many people, regardless of race, also shed tears of joy as Kamala Harris, the first woman of color, of Jamaican and Indian heritage, took the oath of office as Vice President. We were moved by one of the most diverse inaugurations proceeding without violence less than two weeks after so many spewing hate and racism attacked the Capitol, threatening our safety and our values.
As I reflect on these tragic and momentous events, I am reminded of my visit with my partner Pamela Harper to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, shortly after it opened in 2016, while attending the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity annual meeting. Surrounded by hundreds of diverse legal leaders from around the country enjoying cocktails and conversation, it was easy to forget that so many of those present had faced considerable obstacles to get to this point and that inevitably they would continue to do so despite reaching the pinnacle of the legal profession.
The breathtaking facility houses a collection of over 36,000 artifacts reflecting the experiences of Black Americans. The people honored are far too many to name, but their sacrifices and impact are evident from the thoughtful History and Culture and Community Galleries. The History Gallery traces the journey of Black America from slavery to freedom, from freedom to desegregation, and from the tumultuous 1960s to the present. The Culture and Community Galleries reflect how bereft we would be without the extraordinary influence of Black Americans on music, art, sports, the military and beyond. The list of achievements is endless, but it is not over.
Of course, we can expect the Museum to honor and celebrate Vice President Harris as her story continues to be written. But I want to focus on another person whose achievements I expect will become part of the Museum’s collection. This is someone who had already made an indelible mark on our country and will inevitably continue to do so – National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. At only 22 years old, Ms. Gorman captured our hearts and brought many of us to tears with her poised remarks “The Hill We Climb” urging us to look ahead and to unify. To me, Black History Month should continue to honor the many who have achieved so much despite enormous challenges, but it should also be an opportunity to celebrate the upcoming leaders who represent the best and brightest. This month we salute the Black heroes of the past and the heroines of the future.