Happy 2020! February of this year we celebrate the semicentennial of Black History month, formally established at Kent State University in 1970 as the successor to Negro History Week which was celebrated from 1926 until 1970. Both events were established to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” as stated by President Gerald Ford during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976.
2020 also marks 155 years since the ratification of the 13th amendment, the legally binding follow-on to President Abraham Lincoln’s (birthday: February 12th) Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. In the roughly century and a half since then, the accomplishments of black Americans have been plentiful and impressive, including some of these from very recent history:
Black musicians and black-inspired music dominate the charts and continue to influence popular culture
In the past two decades, there have been five black Nobel Prize winners for their contributions to world peace including Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Wangari Maathai
Despite living in a democratic republic designed to represent the populace, black representation in politics has always been low. However, the 2000s were the decade in which a black American rose to the highest office in the land. Barack Hussein Obama II, born in Hawaii to an English mother and a Kenyan father, was the first president ever born outside of the contiguous 48 states
As of 2020, black Americans have much to celebrate in terms of progress and success. However, black America still finds itself combating unique and severe ills, the results of centuries of oppression and slow reform to right the wrongs of the past. The socioeconomic impacts of being born black in this great country are far-reaching and oppressive:
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, black Americans make up 13% of the American population, but over 40% of the homeless population in America
Entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of the traditional American dream, yet black entrepreneurs often find their financial opportunities to form a start-up limited by receiving, on average, a third of the startup capital for the typical white entrepreneur
Due to an unremediated history of redlining, discrimination, and other factors, the average net worth of a black household in America is just ~$17,000, roughly 1/10 that of white households
As of the writing of this blog, black Americans are disproportionately affected by police use of force, often with no consequences
Black Americans are more likely to live near toxic facilities, in underfunded and unmaintained environments, and are disproportionately affected by weather events that are being exacerbated by the continued climate crisis we all face.
There’s always good and bad news to either celebrate or mourn, but Black History Month is a time for us to celebrate our wins and rally the strength the keep pushing for a better future. We’ve done great things as a country since the days when black Americans were considered property, and there is much to celebrate about our collective culture. There is more work to be done to reach a truly equal society, and all of us together are necessary to achieve that lofty goal.
Changing the world isn’t easy, but it also isn’t impossible. Take the first step of a thousand miles by supporting some of the black business owners in our area during Black History Month. Our friends at Intentionalist are hosting a Black History Month Brunch at Jerk Shack on February 16th and Cheers to Black History Month event on February 27th with Sarah Studer. Let’s raise a glass to those who came before us and worked hard to give us the opportunities we have today.