A New Vision for Honoring Black History Month

As we close out the month and reflect on how we honored Black History Month this year and what it could look like in the future, here are some things to think about that can shape how we honor our history and make a difference in our communities.

Being a woman of African descent and a granddaughter of a scientist who received very little recognition for his contributions to the field because of the color of his skin, celebrating Black History Month is personal. I understand firsthand why pausing to reflect on the history of a specific people group has the potential to restore dignity, develop empathy, disrupt patterns of injustice, provide context, and celebrate unique contributions others have made. All of our children—my children—and grandchildren need to embrace more complete narratives of our past before they can actually navigate a better future.

That’s why spending time reflecting on the past is necessary in a collective path forward. We have a need for Black History Month because, too often, the versions of the past we are offered silence certain voices, neglect to give credit to those who deserve it, and lasting contributions or gross injustices are dismissed. Even more, this is a problem we are continuing to navigate today, in 2024, with movements to ban books and revise history in ways that devalue one population and elevate another. So a designated month to look at focused history can give us a collective opportunity to understand and own a more honest and thorough narrative of our history.

But it would be an incomplete story if we stopped there. The question is, how can a better understanding of history help us as we move forward? 

A reflection on the past exposes the disparity gaps history has caused. So, the looming question for any community, government, church—or any group that cares about the flourishing of all people—becomes, “What can we do to help close some of those gaps today?” In that way, the past is an incredible tool to identify resources and skills to accomplish the real goal: changing the future. 

So, what does that look like? For one, when leading teens and youth of color, we have to confront and recognize the effects of racial trauma. While some see racial trauma as primarily emotional, it has much deeper ramifications. Racial trauma for many, continues to exist in every aspect of their life emotionally, mentally, physically, socially, economically, spiritually, and financially. It is integrated into every area of their lives and it’s impossible to compartmentalize or be distanced from. This persistent challenge of upward mobility and advancement is racial trauma.

Racial trauma ultimately becomes generational trauma. This is evident in the effects of poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity, wealth gaps, student loan debt, and underfunded schools and communities. Oftentimes, when we see business owners struggling to stay afloat, or families struggling to send their children to college, or children and youth trapped by patterns of inequities, we fail to recognize the relationship it has to decades—even centuries—of injustice that was never adequately confronted. 

For instance, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, African Americans have 18 cents for every dollar of wealth of non-Black Americans. This disparity alone has far-reaching effects as it relates to opportunities and health. Low-income families are more likely to live in food deserts and communities without quality recreational facilities, experience higher levels of stress, and have poorer medical outcomes. All of these perpetuate cycles of inequity and trauma. 

As faith leaders, it’s important for us to acknowledge this if we want to serve our communities well. Jesus, in John 10:10, talks about an abundant life, and he did this not only referring to the spiritual aspects of life. His earthly ministry of giving food to the hungry, healing the sick, and empowering the marginalized reflects that He cares about every aspect of our lives. So, we need to think about how we can empower people to not just flourish in their everyday faith, but also other aspects of their everyday life. We do that in acknowledging a painful past and taking steps to create a more equal future.

Honoring Black History Month looks different in every community because every community is different. There is no single way forward. But as you consider your community and think about what your programming can look like next year, imagine ways you can share about the past and create a better future that would work in your context. That could look like hosting workshops, partnering with another church or organization, or raising money for organizations that serve marginalized populations. 

Consider asking questions like . . . 

  • What can we do to empower children, youth, and young adults to overcome challenges due to past or present racial injustice? 
  • What essential skills are not taught in school, and how can we help all students learn them? cursive writing, reading an analog clock, true American History, or just Black History, substance abuse education, career & technical education, Driver’s Ed, typing
  • What can we do to come alongside and help a young adult who may face more challenges due to racial trauma make a seamless transition into adulthood?
  • What challenges are Black families experiencing, and how can we partner with another church or organization to support them?
  • What can we do to help our students love their neighbors and create a better future not just for themselves, but everyone? 

At the end of the day, we can’t forget the church exists to be a light and demonstrate the goodness of God to our communities, to demonstrate love, as God demonstrated love for us. One way to do that is by taking what we have learned from the past and using it to propel us into a better future for everyone. By offering support and resources and equipping a generation with what they need to both succeed and love their neighbors well in the future, we are doing more than just celebrating Black History Month, we are loving each other as God has loved us. To learn more about what this can look like in next-gen ministry, check out BOON – The Black Next Gen Network


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