The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is using the entire month of February for virtual Black History Month programming. (Courtesy Photo)
By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
When Carter G. Woodson founded Black History Week in February 1926, he probably had no idea that 95 years later the President of the United States would be writing a National Black History Month proclamation or that his organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) would be carrying on his legacy with its annual celebration turning into a month-long virtual extravaganza. Both are the case this year.
In its 95th Black History celebration, ASALH is using this year to reflect on the power of African-American familial bonds with the theme, “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” Through month-long virtual programming, the theme examines the importance of the Black family, lineage, resilience and more, as America confronts its past in relation to African Americans and systemic racism, and how to move towards progress in the future.
The ASALH programming kicked off a tad bit before February, the shortest month of the calendar year, on Jan. 28, when the U.S. Postal Service presented a video announcing playwright August Wilson will be honored with a commemorative “Forever” stamp in the Black Heritage series. Throughout Black History Month, and ending on Feb. 28, ASALH will hold panels, discussions, performances. A marquee event will take place on Feb. 20, featuring ASALH National President Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in conversation with her Harvard colleague and renowned historian, educator and PBS “Finding Your Roots,” star Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Already, ASALH featured an event celebrating space trailblazer Dr. Mae Jemison on Feb. 3; a panel on food as it relates to the Black community featuring stars such as celebrity chef Carla Hall and actress and author of “Grace, Soul and Mother Wit,” Daphne Maxwell-Reid on Feb. 6; and will announce the winner of the inaugural ASALH Book Prize Award on Feb. 10.
The AFRO spoke to Reid a few days before her panel, which was entitled, “From the Continent to the Americas: Foodways, Culture and Traditions in the African American family,” and, in addition to Hall, featured Dr. Gina Paige of African Ancestry and author and scholar Dr. Stephanie Evans. Reid talked about the importance of food conversations as it relates to the Black community.
“We’re going to talk about the community of food, where it came from, what we should be proud of, how food affects our health, how we can take what we love as traditional food and modify it, so it’s better for our health, but it still tastes great. We’re going to talk about relationships between families and food, and lots of other things,” Reid teased on AFRO Live on Feb. 1, the first official day of Black History Month.
Still to come are events such as “Diving with a Purpose,” on Feb. 24, which was created with youth in mind; and on Feb. 28 are two events: a special discussion with Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and a program called “The Black Family and Education,” featuring Dr. Charlene Dukes.
The Feb. 20 marquee presentation, “Finding Our Roots in African American History: A Conversation with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham,” is the only paid event ($50) in the free month of Black History programming offered by ASALH. In addition to Higginbotham and Gates, legendary radio host Joe Madison will host the event and the Rev. William H. Lamar IV will deliver the invocation.
The Black Heritage series stamp unveiling has been a tradition at ASALH’s usual, annual in-person event. With COVID-19 still plaguing much of the world, Dr. Joshua D. Colin, vice president of Delivery Operations for the U.S. Postal Service will unveil the August Wilson commemorative Forever stamp as part of the Black Heritage series.
In the midst of all the ASALH celebrations, President Joe Biden released the official proclamation declaring February as National Black History Month. The weight of his declaration, as the country faces racism, battles racial health disparities (particularly now, in relation to COVID-19) and makes history with Kamala Harris as the first Black and only woman to serve as Vice President of the United States and one the most diverse presidential administrations.
“I am proud to celebrate Black History Month with an Administration that looks like America, one that reflects the full talents and diversity of the American people and that heralds many firsts, including the first Black Vice President of the United States and the first Black Secretary of Defense, among other firsts in a cabinet that is comprised of more Americans of color than any other in our history,” Biden wrote in a proclamation on Feb. 3.
The President used his National Black History Month proclamation as a call to action for all Americans.
“I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities,” President Biden said.