Black History

With Black History Month (BHM) rapidly approaching, I want to take this opportunity to address: 1.) The purpose and background of BHM  (2. The limited ways in which we typically use this month  3.) How to make BHM more relevant and empowering.


Carter Godwin Woodson, founder of Black History Month, scholar, author and institution-builder
Carter Godwin Woodson, founder of Black History Month, scholar, author and institution-builder

What we now refer to as Black History Month began as “Negro History Week.” Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard University graduate and history professor, began this commemoration in 1926. He was frustrated by the absence of scholarship and discussion about Black people’s contributions to America and the world. He hoped that NHW would fill this void.

A common belief among Black people is that whites created Black History Month in February because it is the “shortest and coldest month of the year.” Actually, Woodson  designated the second week of February to honor the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two people he believed were great emancipators of Black people. The first recorded celebration of Black History Month was in February of 1970 by Black students at Kent State University. By 1976, America’s Bicentennial, the government officially “recognized” this change from Negro History Week to Black History Month, however Black people began this tradition before the government’s validation or permission.

How We Typically Use BHM

Typically, at grade schools, in the community, and on college campuses, BHM becomes a time when we focus on the contributions of Black people, bring people up to speak concerning issues of relevance to Black people, and sponsor plays or movies with “Black” themes, in addition to essay contests, parties, fashion shows, poetry events and the like. Cable and network television stations join in by unveiling their biographies of great Black figures. The internet chronicles important daily moments in Black history. Yet we can accomplish so much more  during this month. This is a time to among other things: share stories not commonly known about Black people, movements, or experiences; explore contemporary problems we face and come up with proposals of resolution; research our family history; teach about continental African culture/history/politics in addition to that of the Diaspora; and use historical inquiry to learn lessons we can implement today. This last point is important since we regularly discuss important Black individuals but fail to glean their meaning for us now and going forward. For young people in particular, the following lessons constitute one example of how we can make Black History Month more relevant. As you read each lesson, think about a specific person or incident from our historical or contemporary context that embodies it.

Sample Lessons Procured From the Black Experience

  1. Our worth and value is not determined by our clothing, education level, hair style, height, or income but by how useful we are to other people. The more we serve, the more valuable we are.
  2. Our ancestors suffered more hardships, deprivation, and brutality than we can imagine. Despite it all, they pushed through. When we are tempted to complain, whine or feel hopeless, we should think about this fact.
  3. We must actively pursue, fight for and work toward freedom, empowerment or success. These good things do not “come to those who wait.”
  4. Like the Pyramids or Sphinx of Egypt, monumental achievement is not simply judged by size or cost, but by how long it lasts
  5. We cannot be truly great or accomplished until we confront and conquer our fears
  6. As evidenced by Malcolm X, we can become great despite a negative or difficult past
  7. Genius and God-given ability without self-discipline, practice and application are short-lived.
  8. We must learn from others but be willing to set our own course and follow our own compass
  9. People and incidents often threaten to enrage and divert us. We must develop the ability to remain poised and focused in the midst of chaos and pressure
  10. We cannot rely on others for our empowerment and protection. The institutions  businesses, organizations and opportunities we need must be created for us, by us
  11. All worthy goals require some degree of sacrifice and prioritizing
  12. Study and learning are indispensable tools for progress
  13. No person, idea, practice or group is above criticism
  14. There is no one way to serve; there is room for everyone in “The Struggle”


Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at


  1. Clearly this is a prescription for unity complete with dosages. This is also a CRM momentum piece which, had it been introduced and continued during the time when blacks were motivated and focused, would have served as the battering ram for substantive long lasting change inside the Village instead of outside. We were fooled by the notion that inclusion (grass is greener back on the plantation) was the answer. It was not. It was a trap.

    At this time in history the mentality of the Panthers needs to be rediscovered, reanimated and brought up out of the grave. The Nation of Islam needs to wake up and fill the streets of the inner cities on a serious recruitment drive to draw in youth into an emersion program of self identify, pride and peaceful civic action for. Black history is never going to taught in the present system as it should be taught.

    So-called Africentric schools and Black Studies college programs are under siege today. The black church is impotent and does not resemble the black church of yesterdyear out on the front lines unifying and empowering blacks and confronting the decision makers demanding absolution of unfair methods and practices in the workplace as well as in the courtroom.

    Wherever crowds of black folk showed up yt granted an audience–usually in the form of a pressor to address issues. They never “liked” our demands or us. But they had no choice but to pay attention for fear we would “rush the castle” and wind up inside their offices. It wasn’t about being “liked or loved” it was about demanding humane treatment in society. “Better to be feared than loved” said Frank Lucas and he was right when he said it.

    Numbers make the difference. We are a scattered people mentally. Despite being huddled in the ghettos created by bankers and racist property owners we remain in a state of disharmony. We remain powerless because we fail to recognize and support each other; a vulnerability exploited by the elite. Just as El Haj Malik El Shabazz became front page news when he commanded an army of NOI in Harlem to disband with a wave of his hand–we need to get up to be about it. When the Brother waved his hand he struck fear and trembling into the breasts of every politician, pastor and community “leader”.

    What to do about the Panthers? What to do about the NOI? What to do to quell the uprisings in Brownsville and Watts? The mission became “offer them crumbs!” Integration, welfare, grants, scholarships, model cities, on the job training programs, affirmative action, etc. suddenly appeared on the scene. And it was all designed to lull black people to sleep which is exactly what happened. And while we slept the powers that be schemed and planned and the result is what we have before us.

    The message today needs to be focused inward toward the Village as opposed outside toward Integration and inclusion–which was the doorway to destruction in the black community. Everything that is in this article is necessary for blacks to regroup and unify. The sticking point, if you will, is whether or not there is still a fire to be stoked? With black folk pimping their “religion” be it Christianity or Islam or whatever we find ourselves once again at loggerheads over petty crap to the delight of the aristocracy whose numbers, by the way, are dwindling rapidly as blacks and browns increase.

    While we are egged on to fight with brown folk and envy black folk like Oprah and Diddy who are mere distractions on the front, we are falling further behind into an abyss of silliness as is evidenced by all the flutter about some idiot with “50-11” baby mommas and just as many children trying to sign a deal for another gottdamn reality show.

    And as the beef between black scholars and celebs plays out for the world to see down on the ground nothing is happening. Time to stop the public feuding and character assassination to turn energies inward. If Oprah can build a school in Africa shouldn’t be a problem getting one built in Chicago–or anywhere else where black folk live. If Magic can open and run a bank and own movie theatres shouldn’t be a problem introducing internships as incentives for academic performance in a school on the scale of what Dr. Steve Perry and others are doing. We have spots of excellence and unity but we do not have a blanket of unity spread so far and so wide that the powers that be dare not come at us introducing anything designed to further divide and oppress us. The search is on. Where is the “want to” in Black America today? We got the who, the what, the where. We need the how.

  2. That is a very good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very precise information… Appreciate your sharing this one.
    A must read article!

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