February means it’s Black History month and unless you live under a rock, the next four weeks will play out as follows:
For the next 26 days, corporations will swap the actors and theme music in their commercials to appeal to a more “urban” crowd.
We can expect news media to air cliché documentaries and in-depth reports concerning the continuing fight for justice in the black community.
BET, TV One and Centric will unselfishly change their logos, paying homage to their audiences. Classrooms in public schools around the country will finally allocate a mere hour to teaching school children about the contributions of black Americans since 1964 because, according to most history textbooks, this was the first year we mattered.
As black college students, by now, February is just another month. Not to mention, it’s the shortest and on average the coldest month of the year, and it seems befitting that this month was assigned to us.
But while we half-heartedly bask in the spoils of having a full 28 days all to ourselves, I invite you to imagine yourself on this day 50 years ago.
Today is Feb. 2, 1961. You and I are considered Negroes in Tallahassee, attending the Negro college.
We would be just like we are today: in the prime of our lives, full of hope, dreaming the wildest dreams. We’re still aspiring lawyers, policemen, doctors, journalists and teachers. Yes, the world is at our fingertips… in our dreams.
Because, in 1961, for the most part all we could do is dream. Back then, our lives would have been planned for us, long before we left the womb.
A young black man would likely end up spending the majority of his working life doing hard, manual labor or perhaps in an unsafe factory in the big city, but only if he was lucky.
A young black woman is subject to becoming a maid in another woman’s house; or she’ll become a teacher in a segregated school house in a run-down facility. But no matter how capable, she would seldom be smart enough to teach white children.
A few of us would get to go to college; I’ll emphasize “few.” In 1961, less than four percent of us would complete college and that figure is probably much smaller, as all federal enumerative records recognized two races: White and non-White.
But for us back then this would have been considered the good life. It was all we could ever hope for.
Not the case today; and somehow our demographic remains relatively unchanged.
And although black people 50 years ago were much we like are today, an astounding difference exists.
The difference between us and our ancestors is that the latter actually had valid excuses. Unlike them, we weren’t born into a static world where everything literally, “is what it is.”
In 2011, we are very much a part of a dynamic world, where anything is achievable with minimal amount of sweat – no tears or blood involved. The problem is that, given all the incentives we have to succeed, many of us still have excuses.
What’s worse, in most cases we are given incentives to succeed and yet we still manage to conjure excuses better fit for 1961, rather than 2011.
Any day you feel lax when it comes to education, remember the same day 50 or even 100 years ago, when doing nothing was your only option. When you’d rather go to the Mint Lounge on Thursday night, instead of studying in Coleman, remember that just a half-century ago, millions of people who looked just like you could only dream about the inside of a university library.
These slighted black people are our parents and grandparents, whose prime is long behind them.
But today, we are their hope. Not only do we carry their dreams, but we are in control of how the next 50 years of black history will play out.
Will we have made unprecedented progress by Feb. 2, 2061? Or will blacks still be lagging far behind in almost every aspect of society because of your indifference in 2011?
So, for the next 26 days, if we remember anything, keep in mind those people who involuntarily wasted their lives so that we didn’t have to make excuses.
And for this month and every moment thereafter, let us work to ensure that our descendants don’t write off their own futures.