I’ve always been told that “you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” As we embark on another February celebration of Black History, my first urge is that we don’t forget about the past when March hits. Black History is all around us from January to December, so let’s take this time to reflect on how life would be if this weren’t the case.
You wake up in the morning and turn on your lights. Oh no! You can’t do that because the carbon filament used in Thomas Edison’s lightbulb was perfected by Lewis Latimer (1848-1928).1 (Of course, we are far beyond the days of using carbon filaments but remember what I said about the past and the future.) You look over to the wall to see what time it is, but the clock isn’t there because Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) created the first one in America back in the 1750s.2 You also realize how cold it is in during these winter months because your centralized heating system evaporated in the night without the brilliant mind of Alice Parker (1895-?).3 Some way you got dressed in the dark, and turn to head out the door. You get ready to leave and set your home security alarm, but forget that Marie Ban Brittan Brown (1922-1999) developed the system that we now use to alert you of strangers at your door and contact relevant authorities as quickly as possible.4 I guess you’ll leave your home unsecured for now.
You’re driving down the road on the way to work and notice that traffic is more of a mess than normal because all of the street lights have disappeared! Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) predicted this trouble back in 1923 and patented our red light, yellow light, green light companion.5 By the way, I hope you can drive a stick because the automatic gear shift was developed by Richard Spikes (1878-1963) in 1923.6 You make it all the way to the office but have to manually do the work because the first supercomputer in 1989 was invented by Philip Emeagwali (1954-present).7 For lunch, you want to enjoy potato chips with your sandwich. Sorry, no chips because they were created George Crum (1824-1914).8
God forbid you get sick with an illness. You can’t get the transfusion you need from a blood bank because Charles Drew (1904-1950) found a way to store and refrigerate blood.9 Could you imagine struggling with heart complications without pacemakers to keep your heartbeat regulated? Well, that was perfected by Otis Boykin (1920-1982).10
While this story is meant to be a lighthearted approach to encouraging everyone to understand how impactful Black History is, I want to tell you that representation matters. Black History month is more than an appreciation for the culture that derives from the African diaspora. It is motivation to go above and beyond the limitations of societal stigmas. When textbooks are written and don’t include the full perspective of Black History – we all know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and now President Barack Obama – it restricts the goals set by African American children. It baffles me every time I realize that my parents and grandparents attended segregated schools not too long ago. There were signs that said “Colored Only” and “Whites Only” that dictated where my dad could get a drink of water. While we have progressed as a country, let us not be so ignorant to the fact that we are one generation removed from clear systematic oppression that still lingers to this day. Take a moment to reflect on how much a part of American history Black History is and help to promote that appreciation 365 days a year.