Vibing with Cat White
Celebrate Black History All Year Long
Black History Month is over. What have you learned?
If you live in the Southern Tier you’re surrounded by Black History. At the very least, you’ve heard of Ernie Davis, as December 6 was recently proclaimed Ernie Davis Day by the City of Elmira’s Mayor, to honor the local sports legend and first Black football player to receive the Heisman Trophy, thanks to the work of a member of Elmira’s Youth Court.
When I was about 12, my father – the reason I’m black – started teaching me Black history, having determined that the public education system was woefully lacking when teaching on the subject. He would make me watch the award-winning PBS docu-series Eyes on the Prize every year, and then we’d talk about every episode, with him answering any questions I had. This is where I learned in-depth about Black American history, and gained insight and context into events that might only be addressed at school with a couple of sentences in a textbook. I was exposed to thorough examinations of so many influential people and moments in Black History, such as Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and the Civil Rights Movement. Looking back, my father focused mostly on politics, economics, literature and music. My dad LOVED to make me listen to jazz with him. He’d put on a Miles Davis or Charlie Parker record, his eyes closing as his fingers tapped out the notes on his knee. He’d make the bass sounds while holding his fingers out in the air, as if he were actually playing. I thought he was so weird, but I loved these rare moments with my, generally, absentee father. My dad had lit a spark of curiosity that would continue throughout my life.
I spent this past month watching the Hulu series The 1619 Project, based on the book and New York Times series, as well as several specials celebrating the influence of Hip Hop over the past 50 years; and musical icons like jazz innovator Miles Davis and the incredible Nina Simone.
Black History Month became a “thing” in 1976 when President Ford officially recognized it, and it’s nice to have a month dedicated to focusing on the contributions that Black people have made in this country and to humanity at large. However, with all of the misunderstandings around critical race theory and debates over the erasure of American history vs. placing history in proper context, I prefer to think of Black History Month as a jumping off point that kickstarts a new year of learning about the accomplishments and influences of BIPOC-people on the local community, this country and the world.
If you want to join me in learning more about Black History the other 11 months of the year, here’s a completely incomplete list of resources that you can check out anytime.
Photos left to right: black baseball player Bud Fowler, the Park Church, and former slave John W. Jones.
Southern Tier Life stories:
John W. Jones Museum, Elmira, NY
The Park Church, Elmira, NY
Ithaca, NY’s Southside Community Center
Movies: Thank you to contributor Chris Kirk, who provided this list of thought-provoking films.
Series and documentaries: