When I was growing up, Black History Month meant we were taught a lesson about Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr., never to hear anything about them or any other Black luminaries in American history ever again.
There was often an assembly during that same season where other classes recited poems on the same people year after year. There were homemade costumes, giggles from the audience if someone forgot their lines and thunderous applause after the last note of “We Shall Overcome.” The assemblies were brief, fun and sentimental yet they did not always create connections.
Over the past couple of years, Black History Month as I knew it has been reclaimed and revamped in some communities. Some refer to it as Black Legacy Month or Black Futures Month, a celebration of the Black experience in America regarded that lingers throughout the year instead of being crammed into a short 28 days.
History has a way of informing us of the past but it can often feel detached from the present until we find it repeating itself. The racial reckoning of 2020 led to a nationwide increase in sales of Black history books. Many in our country struggled with how to talk about racism and yet were longing to learn as much as they could about its indelible mark on our history. Today, I come across a lot of well-meaning people who want to show support to Black brothers and sisters and don’t know where to start. My suggestion? Put down the book— for a moment, I definitely encourage reading—and instead, have a phone call or face to face talk with a Black person about their experiences.
While there is knowledge to be gained in our research, connections are only made through relationships. We build relationships over time and through conversation. It’s one thing to read about the civil rights movement or the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the racial disparities in maternal healthcare or mass incarceration, but it’s another to have a heart to heart talk with someone who has lived through any of those experiences or being introduced to anyone in their family who has. Those conversations aren’t something from a headline in a history book, but a connection to living history, front and center.
In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was pretty upset that her sister Mary left her to be the Martha Stewart, the domestic diva, of their home while Mary lounged around, chatting away with Jesus. I’m sure she was surprised when Jesus prioritized Mary’s choice to sit at his feet.
“Mary has chosen what is better,” Jesus told Martha.
There may be times where we think watching a documentary is better or donating money to a cause or checking out books from the library—all things that can be done without actually getting close to anyone impacted by racial discrimination.
We can’t talk about change if we’re not talking.
M. Skye Holly, Converge Northeast Diversity Team Member
M. Skye Holly is a native New Yorker of Haitian descent.
As a writer and journalist, Skye feels at home around creatives, community and conversation. She is the founder of Black Ivy Prep, an educational consulting firm committed to closing gaps and opening doors for families of color. Skye is a proud #BoyMom. She serves in the social justice ministry of Beraca Baptist Church and is a member of the Converge Northeast Diversity Team.