Images provided by Kurt Severin/Getty Images and author.
Although Black History Month is celebrated every year in the month of February, many people don’t acknowledge why it is celebrated, what it is, or how it began. A lot of Black history has been forgotten, however it must be remembered, as stated by the Black Student Union (BSU): “…because after all, Black history is American history.”
Originally, starting in 1926, Black History Month was a week’s worth of celebration in the second week of February. It was celebrated in that particular week because it coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and Frederick Douglass, who was a former slave and a leader of the abolitionist movement. This special week was created by Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—which is an organization that promotes and researches African-American contributions. It took a long time for the celebration to expand to what it is now because people refused to recognize what African Americans have done inside and outside of the United States. But after the Civil Rights movement, Black awareness expanded and President Gerald Ford officially announced that the celebration of Black accomplishments was expanded to be a month long in 1976. Every year, ASALH chooses overarching themes, and for 2022 they chose Black Health and Wellness, which “acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.”
A lot of Black history has been forgotten, however it must be remembered, as stated by the Black Student Union (BSU): “…because after all, Black history is American history.”
Last year, Power Week was held through Zoom, but this year some changes were made to the events to make them more interactive and fun. To inform students about Black History Month and help many learn a lot more about African Americans, WHS’s BSU organized and held multiple events from February 14th to the 18th on campus. Senior Minnah Awad is BSU’s president, and she believes that Power Week is important because “the Black community at Washington decreases by the year. We take a look around our classes and there’s hardly anyone that looks like us. It’s so easy to feel a sense of isolation when you are the minority. Additionally lack of diversity, representation, and education surrounding minority groups can all contribute to discrimination, stereotypes being enforced, and marginalization. This is why we need events like Power Week to further demonstrate our support and commitment to expanding our knowledge and creating events that reflect the various identities we have here on campus.”
To start off the week, Monday was dedicated to supporting Black creations. Printed QR codes were all around campus so that students could scan them and be led to a Google doc that listed Black owned businesses, Black owned products that could be found at Target, beauty products at Sephora, books written by Black authors, and movies and shows that featured Black actors. On Tuesday, a Black alumni panel was held through Zoom at 4:15 PM. The WHS alumni that were presented were Synclaire Hamilton, Ladin Awad, Ramukai Jalloh, Alexandra Smith, and Ilham Awad. They talked about the colleges they attend, what jobs they currently hold, and the hardships they went through during their time in highschool, such as racism and microaggressions, and decisions regarding their own identity.
On Wednesday, United Students, a civil rights organization at WHS that promotes social justice, presented during FLEX in the cafeteria. They highlighted Black culture and misconceptions and stereotypes that have formed throughout the years. In addition, after school there was an opportunity to watch Hidden Figures. On Thursday, teachers highlighted Black artists and their music. During lunch, a talent show was hosted at the AMP to honor Black artists, genres, and dancing styles. It started off with the cheerleading team showing off their skills, and after that many people that wanted to participate showed off their dancing and singing skills. Lastly, on Friday, black clothing was requested to be worn by everyone, a presentation highlighting Black Civil Rights organizations and movements was shown during FLEX, and during lunch there was trivia that tested people’s knowledge of Black history. There wasn’t as much engagement as BSU hoped because “it was so much easier to just hop on another zoom link for Power Week events,” but there are hopes “that over the years as Power Week is consistently held on campus, engagement will increase.”
It is very heartbreaking to hear that the Black community is still very underrepresented. A message from the BSU president herself, is that she wants everyone to know that, “allyship is an active practice. It doesn’t start and end with Power Week or Black History Month. It doesn’t start and end with Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. Or your favorite rapper or athlete. All Black people are deserving of respect and acceptance, this should be the bare minimum but it’s not. We must be consistent with our learning and support. This isn’t to say that you must always get it right and there’s no room for error, it just starts with accountability and an active desire and commitment to both learn and unlearn, the resources are out there so take initiative!”