Each February, National Black History Month, provides an opportunity to celebrate Black Americans from the past and present day, lauding their contributions and triumphs--triumphs often accomplished in the face of adversity and at great personal cost.
While there are numerous Black Americans, we traditionally celebrate during Black History Month, for every one of those individuals, there are thousands who do not get recognized for their contributions, achievements, and perseverance. So, while we will always celebrate and appreciate Black political, religious, artistic, and other leaders who have made indelible marks on history, we also want to celebrate the thousands upon thousands who we may not hear about, but who contributed to the social, artistic, and policy changes-with just a few set out, below--impacting not just Black Americans, but impacting and shaping all American culture and policy, today.
- Any modern fight for civil rights in the United States-and, for too many, the fight continues-- can trace its origins and blueprint is the mass civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that sought justice and equality for Black Americans. The many threads and contributors to this work have provided a foundation for the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, immigrant, and refugee rights, and voting rights, to name a few.
- Black musicians and artists of the past have impacted key moments in history as well as the artists and songs we listen to today. From rock, to pop, to country, to hip hop, to neo soul, much of the music that we enjoy is rooted in the blues. The blues was born out of the oppression, struggle, hope, and resistance experienced by Black people in America-created by some blues players whose music and identities are preserved and by many, many others who we can only hear in the many artists and musical genres that have succeeded them.
- Policy changes that serve as tides to lift all boats have often been catalyzed by Black communities, brought about, in no small part, by the unsung many. One example is the creation of the state-funded public-school system. Prior to Reconstruction, only the rich, white elite sent their children to schools, while poor white children and formerly enslaved children were not educated. Some of the first Black legislators (newly freed individuals, who would also be the last Black legislators for nearly 100 years), hearing the call of their constituents for better opportunities for their children, pushed to pass laws that created a state-funded system of schools-a system that, now for 150 years, benefits all today.
Black History Month is critical to understanding our progress-and how far we still need to go--as a nation. We recommit ourselves to celebrating and effectuating positive change to making Illinois and the nation a better place for Black Americans and, consequently, a better place for all.
Additionally, we want to share some thoughts from IDHS staff on the meaning of Black History Month right here at IDHS.
"Black History Month is a time to acknowledge and celebrate Blackness and how it contributes to every part of what is good in this country. It's also a call to action to be steadfast in the work of liberation and of advancing equity and racial justice for all of us," said Caronina Grimble, Director of the Office of Strategy, Equity and Transformation.
"Black History Month is extraordinarily significant because it is a reminder of all the sacrifices that have been made to make life better for all people, in particular Black and Brown people! I am reminded of the great Rosa Parks who took a stand for what is right, recognizing that her position could result in not only her demise but her own brutal death. Ms. Parks reminds me of the discussions I frequently had with my two children-now young adults about choices vs. decisions. We discussed how choices are what you have, and decisions are what you make. That in any given day, one person may have ten (10) choices, seven of the ten, good choices, two of the ten, bad choices, and one of the ten, a life ending choice. It is the decisions you make among the choices you have that determines your outcome in life. Black History Month reminds me of the powerful decisions Black folks have made to improve their lives and generations of people to follow. While new age leaders, like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Maya Angelou show or have shown, tremendous acumen, courage, and faith. Historic leaders, like Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr. all fought to end institutional racism and create wellness pathways. I am grateful for the decision of faith, courage, brilliance, and servant leadership all of the aforementioned people, along with others, have demonstrated, because it provides me with information to forge my own pathway in a manner that honors them, along with generations to come," said David T. Jones, Director of the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery.
At IDHS, we are committed to advancing equity, racial justice, and opportunity for Black Americans as we continue striving for equity at the center of all we do.
Grace B. Hou