There are so many ways to commemorate and celebrate Black History Month, which begins February 1st in the U.S. As you consider the ways you’ll honor the past, learn more about the present and dream about the future with your loved ones, we have plenty of creative ideas, resources and tools to inspire you in February and beyond.
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Uncovering stories or discovering new angles on the stories you thought you knew can be an empowering and enlightening experience. Here are a few ways you can further your own journey into Black history.
- Explore online archives. Start with the U.S. National Archives of African-American history, a digital hub of records, interviews, documents and more.
- Visit local museums. Many museums have taken their programming virtual, expanding access for everyone. Check your local museums for upcoming events or find a nearby African-American museum through this directory.
- Trace your genealogy. Because of slavery, many African Americans struggle to trace their genealogy before emancipation came. Even so, a combination of family oral histories, documents and records made more available by online ancestry sites and DNA tests have let some Black people go back further than was once thought possible, revealing a proud, resilient and diverse history covering hundreds of years. Trace your own family’s genealogy or find episodes of Finding Your Roots featuring Black celebrities.
- Read firsthand accounts. While there is much more to Black history than slavery, there is much we can learn from this painful past, which chronicles stories of resistance, defiance, strength, ingenuity and transcendence. You could read the stories of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs or Robert Smalls, for instance. And you can read firsthand accounts of lesser known and unknown Black people who actually lived through slavery from projects like the Federal Writers’ Project.
From Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) to Black churches, countless institutions have historically nurtured, supported and shaped Black communities. The deep and lasting bonds of sisterhood, brotherhood and family created in these spaces provide a foundation upon which Black voices, leaders and members can thrive. Here are some resources and links to help guide your own research journey.
- Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established during a time when Black Americans were denied admission to traditionally white institutions. Today, HBCUs remain necessary places for furthering equal educational opportunities and advancing Black achievement, an impact that reverberates across the nation. Read more about their continued importance in this in-depth interview with Howard University president, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick.
- Nine Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) form the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which was founded in 1930 at Howard University. Commonly referred to as “The Divine Nine,” these sororities and fraternities have become an essential network among collegiate members and alumni. Read all about it in the book The Divine Nine.
- Since slavery, Black churches have always been safe havens for Black people, and to this day, they serve as gathering places that offer emotional, physical, spiritual and moral support for all those who seek it. Discover their vital role within the Black community in PBS’s series The Black Church.
- Since 2003, the National Black Justice Coalition has been empowering and uplifting Black LGBTQ people by providing resources, community support, policy-based initiatives and more. Read more about all they’re doing to advance Black LGBTQ equality on the NBJC website.
History is being made all around us, all the time. So remember that honoring Black History Month can also mean celebrating and championing contemporary Black voices. Here are just a few worth looking into:
- Kimberlé Crenshaw is a foundational scholar of critical race theory and an American civil rights icon. Check out her podcast, Intersectionality Matters, where she covers everything from intersectionality to how Black history echoes in the present.
- Isabel Wilkerson is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed book The Warmth of Other Suns. She details the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North after World War I, which affected everything from civil rights to the makeup of American cities. Her latest book, Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, is hailed as an “instant American classic.”
- Bryan Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy. If you only have half an hour, be sure to watch his powerful and enlightening TED Talk “We Need to Talk About Injustice.”
- Ta-Nehisi Coates is an award-winning American journalist and author. You’re going to want to catch the film adaptation of his memoir Between the World and Me, now streaming on HBO.
- Billy Porter is a Golden Globe-Nominated and Emmy Award-winning actor and singer. And there’s no shame in listening to his cover of “For What It’s Worth” on repeat.
The children in our lives learn some of the most valuable lessons when they see themselves represented or are able to view another’s perspective. And at any age, books can open up conversations about Black experiences. Here are some current and older books by Black authors for all ages.
For reading with little ones
- Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson
- Lullaby (For a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes
- Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
- Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford
- Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
For Teens and Young Adults
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
- Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
- Rebound by Kwame Alexander
For the Grownups
There’s a reading list for every interest out there somewhere. Here are a few we like:
- 44 of the Best Books by Black Authors You Should Read in Your Lifetime
- 62 great books by Black authors, recommended by TED speakers
- 15 Great Books on Black History to Add to Your Reading List
- 7 Novels About Black People in Love
Pick these books up at your local library or consider purchasing from a Black-owned bookstore.
Making something new is especially appropriate for Black History Month. Foster imagination and inspiration with these family-friendly craft and art project ideas.
- Create a timeline art project of prominent figures or events to add to throughout the year.
- Draw portraits of important people throughout Black history who haven’t received a ton of global attention.
- Invent something together after getting inspired by the many Black innovators, engineers and scientists whose inventions we use to this day.
- Create a “Hope” box while listening to excerpts of Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” and fill it with inspiring quotes and affirmations to be pulled out when needed most.
- Design a freedom quilt with colorful paper or fabric and learn about the vital role they played in African-American history.
For even more ideas for kids, check out these educational projects from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
There are a ton of online lists dedicated to Black films. For a more in-depth exploration into the Black experience, here are several essential documentaries to stream.
- Fans of Pose and Ru Paul’s Drag Race will dig the history and groundbreaking storytelling of Paris is Burning (1990). Directed by Jennie Livingston, this documentary follows the 1980s New York City ballroom scene, largely composed of Black and Latinx LGBTQ performers.
- Rock and soul music lovers will want to catch 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), an award-winning documentary that spotlights the backup singers behind some of the most popular American music of the 20th century.
- Book enthusiasts will be inspired by Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (2016), which uses the legendary poet’s own words to narrate an incredibly moving documentary about her life.
Beyond books, movies and documentaries, there’s one thing we know for sure—Black arts and culture is dynamic and thriving. Here are even more ways to celebrate and explore unique aspects of Black culture.
- Holidays: Dedicate time to learn more about important holidays within the Black community such as Juneteenth and Kwanzaa.
- Fashion: Research the diversity and evolution of Black fashion, from African kente cloth to Black church attire to Afrofuturism.
- Food: Learn more about soul food—then ask family members to show you their favorite family recipes.
- Cultural movements: Dig into specific cultural shifts like the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s or the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
For even more resources, settle in with ongoing digital projects like Google’s Black History and Culture site. There you’ll find everything from Black comic book characters to everything you never knew about Motown history.
The commitment toward justice and equality is woven throughout Black history. Honor this tradition by getting involved and improving the lives of those within your own community during Black History Month.
- Start local by learning more about the Black history in your own area and within your own community.
- Create space for family, friends and co-workers to have conversations around topics relevant to the Black community.
- Surprise loved ones with gifts from Black-owned businesses and organizations.
- Support an organization that works to improve Black health, education and more. You can find a charity that aligns with your interests by starting here.
- Get hands-on by becoming a Citizen Archivist. Volunteer to transcribe and digitize African-American historical records housed in the National Archives.
- Prioritize self-care and understand its vital role in the ongoing commitment toward liberation.
By far the best way to celebrate and honor Black History Month is to use this time to cultivate your own ongoing curiosity and learning. Let what you learn and how you celebrate be the inspiration others need throughout the year. Because each time we study our past, we are better prepared to imagine the future we want to create.
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