By France-Elvie Banda, Capacity Building Ameri Corps
As the United States celebrates its 44th national observance of Black History Month, we are reminded that this period carries a deeper meaning. The necessity of Black History Month is defined by the celebration of Black ingenuity and triumph and acts as a critical reminder of the importance of civil and human rights advocacy. Black civil rights leaders, community organizers, protesters, and community members have consistently stood at the forefront of social progression and change. From civil rights to disability rights, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, Black History Month highlights the diversity of the Black community and the inherent intersectionality of Black existence and advocacy.
We honor civil rights activist and former IRC Board Member Bayard Taylor Rustin, born and raised in Chester, Pennsylvania, who exemplified the importance and relevance of honoring intersectional causes. Bayard Rustin was a staunch advocate for economic equity, LGBTQ rights, and in the later decade of his life, he worked as a human rights and election monitor for Freedom House. Building upon his tutelage in India from the Gandhian movement, Rustin is credited as an early and leading advocate for the techniques of nonviolent resistance that defined the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. We remember Bayard Rustin not only for his leadership in co-organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but also for his commitment to humanitarian causes. Rustin served on many humanitarian missions aiding refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Haiti.
Many of the concerns that Bayard Rustin and his contemporaries fought for remain socially and politically relevant today. What connects Black History Month celebrations around the world is a global obligation to rectify decades of intentional neglect of Black people’s contributions to history. In the mid-1960s, the two most prominent textbooks for eighth grade U.S. history classes only mentioned two Black people, despite the work done almost 50 decades earlier by Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland to develop the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and promote the telling and education of Black history. One month each year is not enough time to celebrate and promote the contributions of Black people to our global society. It is, however, in the tradition of Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s legacy, a sacred time to reflect on Black progression and the path ahead.