'Powerful, and Necessary'

Category:  News
Thursday, February 14th, 2019 at 9:11 AM

The father of Black History, Carter G. Woodson, was raised by two former slaves who could not read or write, on a farm in Virginia. Despite facing financial adversity growing up, Carter made his way through high school, and eventually received a Bachelor of Arts from Berea College, a master’s from The University of Chicago and finally his doctorate from Harvard. 

During his time, Woodson dedicated himself to promoting black knowledge. He was cofounder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History — now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) — and founder of The Journal of Negro History.

According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Woodson had “developed an important philosophy” about history: it was more than fact-based knowledge. It is the interpretation of those facts, and it included a telling of those specific time period’s social conditions. 

Woodson and ASALH applied that ideology to the world. In 1926, it was announced that “Negro History Week” would take place the second week of February, considering the birthdays of two historical figures who had dominant roles in African American history and communities — United States President Abraham Lincoln, who was born Feb. 12, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was born Feb. 14.

In 1976, 50 years after ASALH and Carter Woodson announced “Negro History Week,” then United States President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week to a full month. He believed that the nation should take African American history month as a time to appreciate black Americans throughout U.S. history. 

At Edinboro University, as of 2018, African-American students make up the biggest minority group on campus — 6.3 percent, or 305 of 4,834 students. However, their celebration, comprehension and acknowledgment of black history surpasses a single month.

On the second floor of the Pogue Student Center, Edinboro’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Pertrina Marrero, resides with doors wide open, offering students of all races, sexualities and religions a safe place to come visit. 

The EUP alumna learned the value of black history growing up, by realizing that black history is American history. She explained that: “black history isn’t just a one-month affair for us [black people]. It’s an all year, everyday thing.” 

Marrero is not alone is her thinking. Black Student Union (BSU) Vice President, Stevie Jamison, and BSU President, Jade Gethers, share in thought that black history cannot be confined to one month, and that black people have accomplished more than people think, yet it is still overlooked. 

“In school, we never learned to the full potential about Black History Month. They talk about certain people (Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks). There are so many other people. I feel like they shortchanged us a lot growing up. There is so much they don’t put in our [text]books. We don’t care to learn more,” said Jamison. 

But what happens to us as a society when we don’t learn black history to its fullest potential? For Edinboro third year student, Jonathan Murphy, it is detrimental. When we cannot learn from our past, we cannot grow. 

“I feel it makes us highly ignorant. It makes us unaware of certain problems that have been going out throughout [time], not just black people’s lives, but lives in general. When we talk about ‘why is police brutality an issue?,’ well we never went back and looked at the history.” 

For Edinboro’s new diversity and inclusion officer, Terrence Mitchell, lessons his parents taught him from black history are vital to our country. “My mom and dad were among the first professionals in their families, and they taught me that it was our responsibility to excel; to pay back and forward for the struggles that out predecessors experienced.” He explained further, “We were here when the country was founded; we were instrumental in building the infrastructure and wealth of the country, and we remain vital to the success of our country.” 

For Murphy and Jamison, these values make them stronger and can act as a reminder of where African-Americans were and where African-Americans are going.

“Being able to overcome obstacles [is something you learn]. Not just as being a minority, but overcoming obstacles as a person,” said Murphy. “For normal people [these obstacles] would be an excuse to underachieve. However, we value black history itself as a sense of power and pride — being able to overcome anything when the obstacles are so high.” 

 “To be strong,” Jamison listed as something you learn. “To never give up because people are always going to doubt us. Strength is definitely important when the odds are against you.” 

Edinboro’s BSU encourages students of all races to join their club — it isn’t a club for only black people, but it provides a place where students can learn about each other. 

“We don’t only talk about our culture,” said Gethers. “But [it’s] a place we can learn about you too.” 

What is this month for? The simple recognition, or a monthly reminder that black history is rooted in the bones of America? Could be. But perhaps more so, despite the low African-American population at Edinboro, the knowledge that can be learned is powerful and necessary. 

Anisa Venner-Johnston | edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

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