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Let Black History Month spur move to make every month about 'our history'

The look of amazement never grows old.

When I speak to middle school and high school students about Black History Month, I share with them a story about the Montgomery bus boycott. I highlight Rosa Parks' sacrifice and the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but I also mention that King had help from the Rev. Robert Graetz.

I share that Graetz and his wife gave rides to those who boycotted the buses, and I explain that because of their willingness to engage in such a controversial issue they faced scorn and rejection. In fact, Graetz's house was targeted for bombs three different times.

If the terrorists had succeeded in detonating the third bomb — a can of TNT wrapped with sticks of dynamite — not only would Graetz and his family have perished, but the neighbors who lived on each side of his home also would have died.

Then I show them a picture of Graetz with King, and I ask, "Does anything strike you as unusual about this picture?"

They answer with astonishment: "He's white."

"But we're talking about black history, right?" I ask.

"Yes."

"But he's what?"

"White."

Yes, the Rev. Robert Graetz, a contributor during the Montgomery bus boycott, is white. Often when we talk about what we define as "black history," it's important to remember that many of the movements that advanced the lives of African-Americans and society as a whole involved the contributions of people of many ethnicities.

The lessons have to go beyond putting up pictures of Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan.

At the same time, it's important to underscore the contributions made by African-Americans. Without those efforts, all of our lives would be less, but so often the contributions and the stories behind those contributions get minimized.

Such oversights led the great Carter G. Woodson to initiate an inclusive "week" of black history in 1926.

"Woodson started Negro History Week (in 1926) in order to emphasize not Negro History Week, but the Negro in history," says my friend and Hillsborough Community College history professor Keith Berry.

"As more immigrants expand our population, we should teach native-born Americans and immigrants alike how all Americans are able to enjoy the benefits of this country due to the blood and sacrifice of African-Americans," he says. "As we become more diverse, we should not allow our history to be dispersed."

Interestingly, the University of South Florida and the Pinellas County African American History Museum in Clearwater will partner Tuesday to present More Than a Month, a documentary that attempts to answer the question "Do we still need Black History Month"? The screening begins at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a discussion by USF assistant professor Abraham Khan.

It's a worthy topic because in so many ways African-American history is really our history. When I speak to students, I encourage each and every one to learn his or her ethnic and personal family histories and then share it with others at school.

Never has such an approach been more important for our young African-American boys and girls. Now, more than ever, they need to know they stand on the shoulders of tremendous sacrifice and sheer greatness.

If every student delves into his history, and if the education system brings greater depth to African-America history, we may someday reach a point where every month is "our history" month.

But we're not there yet.

That's all I'm saying.

.if you go

Film screening

More Than a Month, a documentary that explores the significance of Black History Month, will be screened Tuesday at the Pinellas County African American History Museum and Resource Center, 1101 Marshall St., Clearwater.

Let Black History Month spur move to make every month about 'our history' 02/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 16, 2012 3:30am]
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