Acknowledging the History in Black History Month
By Dr. Carlos N. Medina | February 2023
As we celebrate this year’s Black History Month and recognize the countless contributions made by the African American community since the founding of our country, it’s important to have the right mindset and historical context which allows us the understanding to appreciate what this month truly stands for and the struggles it took to get where we are today.
As we reflect on present-day issues and events, the level of tribalism that’s occurring nationally on so many levels is deeply troubling. Indeed, our basic freedoms, sense of justice, issues of equality, our right to vote, and self-determination are increasingly being threatened.
Black communities across the nation, and other minoritized groups, feel the continued burden of the struggle to be treated fairly and without undue prejudice. As Congressman John Lewis once said, “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
The words of wisdom of the Honorable John Lewis could not ring truer when one reflects on this year’s Black History Month theme entitled, “Black Resistance.”
It’s important to first note that due to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the growing consciousness of Black identity, in 1926 the celebration began as “Negro History Week”, evolving into a month-long celebration on many college campuses across the country.
As a result of this development in higher education, along with mayors in cities across the country adopting this month-long recognition, President Gerald Ford officially acknowledged Black History Month in 1976. President Ford challenged the public “to seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Since 1976, every American president has designated the month of February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. As mentioned earlier in this article, the theme for 2023 is “Black Resistance.” Not to be misconstrued as solely a militant conception of fighting against racism and discrimination, but a deeper understanding of how African Americans have and continue to resist historic and ongoing oppression in all its forms.
Take for example the recent and violent killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. Reverend Al Sharpton so aptly stated that just across the way from where King once stood and was assassinated defending the rights of sanitation workers, Mr. Nichols was killed by five Black police officers in a horrific manner and for largely unsubstantiated reasons—what appears to be “driving while Black.”
It is important that we stop to recognize the sacrifices, struggles, and extraordinary achievements made by African Americans throughout our history. As we celebrate Black History Month this year, let it be a reminder that the struggle is not over and there is still much to be done.
As search consultants, we are called upon to develop a search process for our partner institutions with honesty and integrity that is grounded in best practices. As such, we will not be voiceless in light of biases and/or inequities in decisions that we may witness; rather we ensure fairness by imparting our knowledge through our voice–and yes, we will not “be afraid to make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”
About the Author
Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Senior Consultant
Dr. Carlos N. Medina is Vice President for Equity & Inclusion and Senior Consultant for Academic Search. Previously, Dr. Medina served as the inaugural Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer for the State University of New York, the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the nation. He also served as regional representative to the Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU), and as a Board Member for the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). He has more than 30 years of progressive leadership experience in state government and higher education.