Black History Month 2016: Where Do We Go From Here?

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By: DiversityWorking Press
Date Posted: February 01, 2016

In President Obama's proclamation of this year's Black History Month (February 1 -28), he cited the “generations of courageous individuals who, in the face of uncomfortable truths, accepted that the work of perfecting our nation is unending and strived to expand the reach of freedom to all”

The gist of the message of the presidential proclamation of this national event is a reminder that work is not over until “when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, the challenge calls for every American today to continue the efforts of those before us to resolve the lingering problems of “inequalities and injustices.”

Pres. Obama recognized the various achievements gained by African Americans in the areas of education, employment and healthcare, but also mentioned two particular problems: a disproportionate number of prisoners are African Americans, and many communities of color still face significant lack of educational and employment opportunities.

Lack of educational and employment opportunities
The best pipeline to the job market is education. Yet a study made a few years back by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that even armed with collge degrees, African Americans were still more likely to be unemployed.

As their study has shown, a college degree is no guarantee a fresh African American graduate will be able to land a job. Being unemployed, many African American youths are often led to a life on the streets, in jail, or tragically, to a life of violence.

On the other hand, even with jobs, African Americans experience wage disparities between them and whites.

Mass Incarceration
President Obama himself noted in his proclamation the need to “reform our criminal justice system and ensure that it is fairer and more effective.”

Theories abound as to why many black and poor people are locked up. Experts say race plays a big role in the incarceration of blacks.

One collaborative essay written by Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, and David Cole, professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and which was published by The Washington Post in 2011, shows that more black people than whites are put behind bars not because they commit more crimes. The authors found urban black communties were being policed more than white communities, especially in their drug-busting activities; more black people than whites were being sentenced to jail or prison, even if almost the same number of whites committed the same crimes and more than racist police and judges, “is a justice system that fails to take the promise of equality seriously,” Mauer and Cole wrote.

Another expert, Bill Quigley, Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, says the same thing in an article he wrote and published by Common Dreams – that black and poor people, being often racially targeted, populate most of the country's jails and prisons, and Quigley mentions 40 reasons behind this sad reality, among which is the propensity of police to discriminate against black and poor people, who often are stopped, searched and issued tickets.

Some experts even said, the situation today is even worse than the days of slavery, as more Black men are held captive by prisons than slavery ever did.

Racial Profiling
Studies have also shown racial profiling is often behind the discriminatory treatment against Black people and other minorities.

Racial profiling, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Criminal profiling, generally, as practiced by police, is the reliance on a group of characteristics they believe to be associated with crime. Examples of racial profiling are the use of race to determine which drivers to stop for minor traffic violations (commonly referred to as "driving while black or brown"), or the use of race to determine which pedestrians to search for illegal contraband.”

Where Do We Go From Here?
"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” - Dr. Carter G. Woodson

These are today's realities for all Americans, and in particular for African Americans. What affects one segment of American society, affects all.

Thus on the eve of this year's celebration of Black History Month, as Americans ponder their individual lives and their collective life as a nation, it behooves each one to acknowledge what is happening, and to find ways to become more involved. For those whose lives are not directly affected by any discrimination, it will be good to learn how to be more open to the plight of others and be of help; for those whose lives and their loved ones are directly impacted, it behooves them to let go of negative emotions, and set their sights toward the future. Each one is encouraged to be more kind, open, tolerant with others. The journey toward the future is not just for each one alone, but together hand in hand. So the work of building justice and equality is the work of all.

Still, everyone can benefit much from looking at the past to get inspiration from the great men and who struggled for liberty, equality and justice to get to where America is today. Thus, the reason there are events such as the Black History Month.

2016 Theme: Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories
It is fitting that this year's theme encourages everyone to revisit those sacred grounds where history was made in order to galvanize more action to destroy decades of abuse and indifference toward our minority brothers and sisters, and mold the America everyone yearns for our children and future generations.

As the Association for the Study of African American Life & History (ASALH) says in their site: One cannot tell the story of America without preserving and reflecting on the places where African Americans have made history.

President Gerald Ford, in designating Black History Month a national observance, said: “In celebrating Black History Month, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

February is significant in that it was chosen an apt month by the founders of ASALH, Carter G. Woodson and Jess to launch in 1926 the first celebration of a Negro History Week, as it was the birth month of two great American men synonymous with the struggle for freedom, justice and equal rights: Frederic Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.

Earlier in 1915, they established the Association for the Study of African American Life & History, to promote the study of Black history as well as celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans.

Now Black History is a month-long event, and as most Americans are aware, February is designated the Love month because many celebrate Valentine's Day, a day to remember and honor the special person in their lives: romantic partners, their spouses. Today, the meaning of Valentine's Day is no longer merely associated with romance, yet it can also be a good reminder, as the country observes Black History Month, to practise love toward our fellow citizens, toward our fellow human beings, so that in small ways, the persistent claws of racial hatred and discrimination in American society may little by little be blunted.

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