For many people around the world, February is reserved for the celebration of love. But here in America, we dedicate the second month of the year to our black history, honoring our African ancestors who helped paved the way for our freedom and equal opportunities. The African-American experience is certainly not devoid of trials, but the sum of our triumphs outweigh the challenges we’ve overcome and the ones we have yet to face.
When we think of the great orators who have graced national platforms and have captured the attention and hearts of many, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind. When we think of the musical legends who have sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears for their rhythm and blues, Nat King Cole comes to mind. When we think of black athletes who have broken barriers and dominated arenas, stadiums and/or fields, Earl Lloyd, (one of the first African-American players in the NBA) comes to mind. And when it comes to literature and poetry, Frederick Douglas, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neal Hurston are just some of the many prolific writers who were brave enough to tell our stories unapologetically.
However, many West Indians struggle to find their place in black America’s history, particularly because it appears we have been excluded from the Black History Month narrative. The lack of Afro-Caribbean representation is so evident–and at times, deliberate-that it seems that our experiences and contributions have been relegated to National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, which is mainly observed by those of us who make up this demographic. And yet, our history is riddled with the same oppression that threatened to diminish us as black people. Our ancestors were stolen from Africa and sold into slavery too!
When Toussaint Louverture fought against the white slave owners in Hispaniola, he did it so that all of our black brothers and sisters could be free there and elsewhere. When Henri Christophe fought alongside more than 500 free men of color to help white American forces defeat British Imperialists, it was so that the United States would someday be a good place for our African brothers and sisters. The independence that allows us to celebrate Black History Month was won by a black brigade consisting of men who were slaves in America and Hispaniola. The West Indian experience offers just as many illustrious examples of resiliency, ambition, and success as that of the African-American experience. Both experiences are intertwined in the fabric of Black History Month. Therefore, historical figures like Frederic Marcelin, Bob Marley, and Blake Alphonso Higgs should be celebrated as much as we celebrate the likes of Malcolm X and Nikki Giovanni. Our collective black excellence deserves that much!
By Ifonia Jean