Making Black History Month Relevant Part II

African genius

Black History Month is not a trivia game.

I wrote about this before, and I’ll continue saying it. Whether you see the validity in Black History Month or don’t, it exists. And since it exists, and is celebrated in schools, places of worship, homes, and community centers throughout the world, it behooves us to use this month judiciously. Given the range of challenges facing the Black community, we cannot afford to reduce this month to a simple roll-call of great Black individuals, or Black trivia. This provides us with a time to be critical, to tell important stories from our own perspectives, and draw meaning from them, to draw inspiration and guidance from people, organizations, and movements that advanced Black liberation, to clarify and reinterpret the past, and to avoid mistakes from the past.In this spirit, I’ve identified 7 basic lessons very useful for teaching young people during Black History Month and throughout the year.

Lesson 1: 

As embodied in the examples of countless Black entertainers, musicians, athletes and civic leaders, mere talent and/or knowledge is not enough. The sad story of failed potential, blown opportunities, and poor choices is unfortunately, an all-to-familiar one. Going forward, we want our young people to develop the foundational skills and knowledge they need in addition to the EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE/MATURITY/DISCIPLINE/DECISION-MAKING needed to succeed over the long haul and to avoid self-destruction. Young basketball phenom from the Bronx, Carlton HInes is an unfortunate example of this lesson.

Lesson 2:

No one’s fate is written in stone or predetermined. With self-reflection, discipline, and hard work/preparation, we can become great despite a negative or difficult past. There are plenty of examples in our history that demonstrate the principles of redemption and transformation. We have the power and ability to succeed and have impact on the world, even if we didn’t start off in the best light. Brother Malcolm X for example was a petty thief, drug user, and con artist as a young man. He was eventually arrested and sentenced to 7 years for burglary. But he read voraciously in prison,developed self-discipline from his practice of Islam, from joined the debate team, and painstakingly wrote out words from the dictionary. As a Nation of Islam Minister/spokesperson, he later gained national and international fame as a Black liberation theorist and organizer. The pictures below speak to his remarkable transformation.

malcolm-11944 Police Mugshot Of Malcolm X

Lesson 3:

Despite what we are led to believe from American patriarchy and sexism, Black women have been, are, and will continue to be pivotal leaders of the struggle for humanity, justice, and empowerment. Some believe a woman’s place is in the home, others suggest the office. But their place is in.the struggle for liberation or wherever they choose it to be.Additionally, despite some progress, this world, America, and unfortunately the Black community still harbors sexist and patriarchal views and practices. So as we challenge racism from whites, we must also challenge our own sexist views in the Black community.

women in struggle
Top to bottom: Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Dorothy Height, Ella Baker, Angela Davis, Queen Mother Moore, and Sonia Sanchez.

Lesson 4:

Despite the contemporary difficulties we face, our ancestors endured more brutality, deprivation and hostility than we can ever imagine. In addition, any progress or convenience we enjoy, no matter how smart or talented we are, we owe in part to their sacrifices and struggle. And for this reason, even while being critical of their movements, ideologies, and practices, we must be grateful and show respect for those who came before us. And we can do this by taking the time to study what they did, how they did it, and hat forces opposed them. We can also critique and implement their ideas.

Lesson 5:

Regardless of oppressive forces arrayed against us, Black people have always resisted degradation, discrimination, enslavement and injustice. We did not accommodate to injustice and inequality in the past, and we shouldn’t now. Wherever we live, work, or attend school, we should organize and play our role in fighting for social justice and Black empowerment. No one will give us anything. History suggests that we must create our own opportunities, institutions and bases of power.  Such service and struggle is the rent we pay for the luxuries and improved conditions we receive. Reverend Al Sharpton reminded us of this when he delivered the following riveting speech at Rosa Parks’ funeral.

Lesson 6:

Ours is a society that adores celebrities and exceptional people. Yet one need not be a celebrity, have advanced college degrees, be a master strategist, have material wealth or  be a phenomenal public speaker to advance Black empowerment. Harriet Tubman had no degree. Fannie Lou Hamer was a poor sharecropper with very limited education. Many of the Black folk that participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott were ordinary teachers, taxi drivers, domestic workers, and janitors. Our history demonstrates that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Observe the courage and powerful agency of Fannie Lou Hamer:

Lesson 7:

Black people must have an internationalist thinking and presence. We are an African people and a Diasporan people, dispersed throughout the world, by European colonial powers. Therefore, we cannot afford to isolate ourselves within the limited boundaries of American media, social movements, and events. We have the right to learn about mandelainternational affairs and to involve ourselves in them. We must also learn about freedom struggles on the African continent, Latin America, and Asia. We strengthen our forces and expand our reach when we connect with our people all over the world. When we do this, we also weaken the forces of imperialism which subjugate African people of globally. Their fight is also OUR fight, and we must develop stronger ideas/practices of Pan Africanism. You should also know that the U.S. government has gone to great lengths to create division between continental Africans a x African Americans. Closely read National Security Clump memo 46:

Lesson 8:

Black people have attempted to create independent bases of power in our history. This includes creating independent schools, mutual aid societies, businesses and organizations. Perhaps the most influential advocate for autonomous Black economic power and solidarity, was Marcus Garvey. People like Garvey insisted that Black people could and must build their own institutions and challenge injustice from positions of strength. We also once had thriving independent Black communities like “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Lesson 9:

Robert F. Williams, former NAACP leader and author of “Negroes with Guns.”

Nonviolence was one approach of liberating Black people. However, we also have examples of organizations and people that advocated for Black people to defend themselves. This includes the Deacons for Defense, The Black Panther Party, and people like Robert F. Williams.


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 to your organization, contact him at

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