This Black History Month proved to be eventful and elevating for Black America. This was the first BHM I’ve spent in the states in three years and every week my senses were heightened as I was further engaged in the discussions, plights, and achievements of our collective. To top it off, it’s a Leap Year so we got an extra day to revel in the greatness of our blackness; that is for those of us who only celebrate it in isolation one month out of the year. I can only smile as I recount the wondrous things that have happened over the last 29 days that have impacted our community-at-large.
I challenged myself to count down the “Top Ten 2016 BHM Moments”, but there were certainly some honorable mentions. Though they didn’t make the list, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a self-described “originalist” and foe of civil rights, and the production of “Eclipse” on Broadway with an all-black, all-female cast with two lead black female producers are certainly honorable mentions.
1. Black Monopoly
As a customer of two black-owned banks myself (One United & Citizens Trust), I was elated to read that black celebrity artists, Killer Mike, Usher, & Jermaine Dupri launched a campaign to encourage others to support Black Banks. We know that an increase in accounts in black banks will result in an increase in the approval of home and business loans to black people because “he who makes the gold, makes the rules.” Bank Black. Buy Black. Build Black Businesses.
The first weekend of BHM, the global entertainment mogul, in the clandestine way that has become her nature, dropped a single so revolutionarily black (for an artist of her celebrity) that she has had E-VER-RY-BODY talking about it. “Formation” isn’t some universal language song that we’re accustomed to hearing from Queen Bey. This is an undeniably, unapologetically black song; whether we liked it or not. For the power of the impact alone, regardless of how we feel about the music sonically and lyrically, we should collectively be proud. Read more here.
3. Compton’s in Africa: A Geography Lesson
BHM 2016 was a month of black artists using their voices to empower us. One captivating example of such was King Kendrick Lamar’s vivid performance on the stage of this year’s Grammy’s. The brother came out adorned in cornrows, cloaked in a blue jump suit in chains, attached to other black men in the semblance of a chain gang. He showcased lyrics from his singles “The Blacker the Berry” and our new addition to black anthems, “Alright” before hitting us with the gut-wrenching lines in spoken word form that referenced our fallen brother Trayvon Martin and our own hypocrisy with mourning and taking the lives of black men and women. He did this before piercing the silence of the awe-stricken audience with an image of his silhouette standing in an outline of Africa, with “Compton” scrolled across its chest. Everything about his performance was unapologetically black. Nominated for eleven awards and walking away with five (He won all of the “Rap” categories for which he was nominated, but not the others; proving they still will try to keep us locked in a box), he also made history as the second most nominated performer in a single night; second only to the incomparable MJ.
4. Serena Slays in Education
Though it happened on the cusp of BHM, most were unaware that tennis phenomenon, Serena Williams took her talents off the court and opened her third school; this time in Jamaica! In collaboration with Helping Hands Jamaica, Serena physically and financially built Salt Marsh Primary School and held the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She opened two other schools in Africa previously.
5. Dance Black Girls!
As Black America collectively prepares to mourn the departure of our First Black First Family, we were invited into their home to witness why their influential impact on positive black imagery will be sorely missed. Michelle Obama in her typical phenomenal fashion, invited stellar dance choreographers Debbie Allen, Judith Jamison, and Fatima Robinson to teach dance to local students. Can you just imagine all of that Black Girl Sensation soaring through The White House? Well, you don’t have to; just look at the pictures.
6. Changing Faces
Meanwhile, down the hall, President Obama nominated the first person who wasn’t a member of the good ‘ole boy club to be the Librarian of Congress. Not only is the nominee not a white male, but it’s a formidable black woman, Carla Hayden!
7. 106-Year Old Virginia McLaurin Visits the White House
Pennsylvania Avenue was not playing with us this Black History Month! In addition to the historic nomination and “So You Think You Can Dance: White House Edition,” Brother Barack and Sister Michelle hosted one of our revered elders, 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin in the presidential home for a day. If you want to smile as brightly as she did, just press play.
“I thought I would never live to get in the White House. And I tell you, I am so happy. A black president! A black wife! And I’m here to celebrate black history. Yeah, that’s what I’m here for.” — Virginia McLaurin
8. Art Imitates Life Imitates Art
The last Wednesday of this year’s BHM, “Black-ish” struck us with an unconventional, refreshingly direct episode addressing the value or lack thereof of black lives in America. This episode echoed the disparate sentiments of many of us and was aired on the heels of the manslaughter conviction of Chinese-American police officer Peter Liang in the case of Akai Gurley.
9. KKK Trumps Trump
In our edition of No Big Surprise, we learned that David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, publicly endorsed Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump. That’s all.
10. Oscars in Black & White
Jada Pinkett-Smith called for a boycott of this year’s Oscars after learning that the list of nominees was whiter than a bowl of vanilla ice cream in a snowstorm. In her video addressing the issue, she still offered moral support to comedian Chris Rock as the host of the 88th Academy Awards. However, in his opening monologue Chris Rock suggested the boycott was pointless because she wouldn’t have been invited anyway, and the Oscars has always been predominantly white. “Now the thing is, Why are we protesting? The big question: Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know?”
And, once again, as we close Black History Month 2016, Black America is at a crossroads of deciding whether to plunge our support in ourselves or maintain the status quo because…well, it’s the status quo. Do we continue to celebrate our greatness and strive for more collective achievements throughout the year, or do we pack up our dashikis and leather African medallions until next Black History Month?