February holds a special place in my heart because during this month, I get to celebrate my parents’ anniversary and Black History Month.
Black History Month is not only important to me as a young African-American man, but because it empowers and forces me to look at how far African-Americans have come, even when considering my own family.
My family originates from places in the South, such as Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas. Both sets of my grandparents migrated to California, and when asked why, they give the same reason: “I wanted a better life.”
Growing up I have heard stories of what life was like for them in the South and what a hateful place it was. It was a place where there was little to no opportunity for growth or prosperity for blacks. Their memories recall it as a place full of oppression.
My paternal grandmother talks about working in factories and fields as a teenager, while my maternal grandfather recalls being put in a sack on his cousin’s back while she picked cotton when he was a toddler. So, to ensure better lives for their families and themselves, they came west.
While things were better in California, racism was still prevalent.
Once in California, my mother’s family was one of the first to integrate into a white neighborhood in Los Angeles. There they experienced blatant racism. She and her brother were even called “monkeys” while playing in their front yard. This was in the mid-1960s.
At one time in this country, African-Americans were not seen as human, but rather as property. Once freed from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation, we still faced many obstacles. It was this type of thinking that fueled the civil rights movement.
I thank God that I was able to grow in a diverse environment, and that I was able to grow up with positive African-American role models past and present, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Maya Angelou and President Barack Obama.
I equally am blessed to see heroes in my family. My grandparents truly are my heroes. They both had to grow up and live through a cruel part of American history, yet they strove for a better life and accomplished that goal.
Some people confuse Black History Month as a way for African-Americans to separate ourselves from the country as a whole. This is not the case.
Black History Month is about pride and empowerment. It is a month that reminds us of all of the accomplishments that we have made in a country in which our ancestors once suffered. It is because of their hard work and dedication to equality that I am able to go to school, vote and attain anything for which I work.
For this reason, I celebrate Black History Month.