February is Black History Month. Since 1976, every U.S. president has declared this month dedicated to the celebration of the achievements and culture of African Americans, as well as recognizing their central role in our history. But the origin of this special month took place long before – 50 years before. On February 7, 1926, Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans started “Negro History Week”. Their purpose was to bring attention to the study and scholarship of African American history with the hope that it would extend the study to the rest of the year. From that event, an official nation-wide observance of Black History month was established, although it took 50 years.
What is our responsibility as Jews during this month? I would say – with a similar mindset to Carter G. Woodson – that our responsibility is not much different than every day of the year. We should educate ourselves about the history and culture of black people in the United States and celebrate their accomplishments; we should continue to fight against systemic racism while fighting for civil rights; and we should share what we learn and do with our friends and family.
In addition to fulfilling those responsibilities, during this month of February we are also obligated to bring special attention to them – to publicize those same things we are learning and doing throughout the year.
I would like to bring your attention to an article published by the Union for Reform Judaism which highlights black leaders of the Jewish community: “Honoring Black History Month and Creating a Better Future” (click on title for full article: https://reformjudaism.org/honoring-black-history-month-and-creating-better-future). The author, Chris Harrison, shares comments by multiple leaders on their insights and perspectives related to Black History Month.
Here are two comments that inspired me:
“As a classically trained musician and queer person, I find myself most inspired by breadth of Black artists. Singers like Mattiwilda Dobbs, Marian Anderson, and Leontyne Price, whose debut at The Metropolitan Opera concluded with a 42-minute standing ovation…writers like Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, whose words I continually find deeper meaning in no matter how many times I read them. I’m inspired by artists like Wadsworth Jarrell and Cliff Joseph whose art allow me to see myself in ways I never thought possible.” – Marques Hollie
“I became immediately enthralled by the Colin Kaepernick protests…I’m so impressed at both his strength of character and the positive influence it has had on the nation, despite the attempts to impede him. It is my hope that this generation takes his baton and carries it forward to countless young people who are awakening to the reality that they can make the same historical difference as those who carried them this far.” – Robin Harrison
As we celebrate Black History Month, remember Hillel’s most famous teaching: “What is hateful to you, do not do to another” and do not let others do hateful acts either. “The rest is commentary. Go and learn it” – learn the history of our black fellow Americans and celebrate their accomplishements. Thus we will create a better future for all of us.