The question “Why does history matter?” is often asked. To arrive at an answer, one would need to understand when history actually began. Ask historians and various answers are offered depending on who you talk to, but the answer to this question should be: Now. History begins now, at this very moment. What happened a second ago is already history. History is the huge succession of events that created us. Think of it, if you like, in the same way as you do a family tree, tracing back to your two parents, four grandparents, and so on. I would suggest that you can't begin to know about yourself, to understand the present, the way we live and why, until you understand something of your roots in the past. So, firstly, the past gives the present its value.
Secondly, those who do not study history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.
Then there's the sheer delight of the incredible richness of the world's cultures. We can discover not just a lifetime, but centuries of the astonishing creations of the human mind. History, for me, opens wide the doors of perception and that’s why history is so important and why Black History Month matters.Origins of Black History Month
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. He chose February because the birthdays of the two influential figures - Abraham Lincoln, US president and Frederick Douglas - who he believed to have impacted on the conditions of the “Negro” fell in February. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.
Black History Month aims to:
- Promote knowledge of the Black History, Culture and Heritage
- Disseminate information on positive Black contributions to society
- Heighten the confidence and awareness of Black people to their cultural heritage
In the United Kingdom, Black History Month runs for one month each year. The reason for having it at all is because there has long been concern about the experience of black children in the UK, and this was a key factor in establishing Black History Month. Being in October, at the start of a new academic year, the idea is that learning about Black History during that time can instill pride and identity into young black learners.
October is also a period of tolerance and reconciliation in African culture. Black history is therefore a reconnection with the African source, hence the Black History Month symbol of Sankofa, which is an adinkra symbol from Ghana, West African. Sankofa is depicted as a bird and as a heart and translates as ‘Go back to fetch it’ or in other words learn from the past to gain the benefit of hindsight.
Ghanaian Akyaaba Addai Sebbo is widely regarded as the person who set up Black History Month in the UK. Addai worked with Ken Livingstone at the Greater London Council (GLC) as co-ordinator of Special Projects. The first event was held on 1st October 1987, when the GLC hosted Dr Maulana Karenga from the US to mark the contributions of Black people throughout history. Addai then drew up a plan to recognise the contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean people to the economic, cultural and political life in London and the UK. Since 1987 as part of African Jubilee Year, other boroughs began to formally institute this as Black History Month in the UK
Black History Month’s purpose is nicely encapsulated in these words spoken by the former London Mayor Ken Livingstone; “In order to enrich the cultural diversity of the Greater London area, it is imperative that Londoners know more about African influences on medieval and renaissance European music so that accepted ideas about European music is changed. Despite the significant role that Africa and its Diaspora have played in the world civilization since the beginning of time, Africa’s contribution has been omitted or distorted in most history books.”
Black History Month has grown in Britain and over 6,000 annual events take place throughout towns and cities in the UK. The annual event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs, host performances and lectures.
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