“I have a dream that someone can walk through the doors of this school and see the work for justice being done.” – German C. ‘21 and Sy’Naeh S. ‘20 of the 2020 MLK Day Committee.
The MLK Day Committee was put together to organize a celebration and educational day in honor of MLK Day, a federal holiday observing the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist and leader of the non-violent movement against racism. The purpose of the holiday is to celebrate and recognize the work he has done for our national community. The push for the federal holiday began after Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, and with the help of Ronald Regan in 1983, became officially recognized and celebrated by all 50 states in 2000. The beautifully planned out MLK Day at Northwest, which was essential in creating conversations around race amongst all the different backgrounds, was a result of the MLK Day Committee’s hard work and effort.
Shortly after MLK Day is Black History Month, which lasts through the month of February. It started out as N*gro History Week in the early 20th century, but during the civil rights movement, the growing awareness of Black identity and the reality of American racism helped push the week of celebration into a month-long celebration of black history. The theme of this year’s Black History Month is African Americans and the Vote, which honors the centennial anniversary of the nineteenth amendment (1920), which gave women the right to vote, and the 150th anniversary of the fifteenth amendment (1870), which gave black men the right to vote. The purpose of Black History Month is to celebrate the work of all black artists, scientists, historians, and public figures who are not recognized by today’s society. This period not only aims to celebrate their achievements but also to acknowledge the work that still needs to be done to dismantle institutional racism. Whether one is walking to the grocery store, doing a job interview, or driving home, everyday experiences can vary drastically depending on the color of your skin. A black boy should not have to pull down his hood for the comfort of white people, just as much as it is socially unacceptable to assume that a white person has racist intentions. Yet at the end of the day, the white person’s dignity isn’t comparable to the black boy’s life.
People of color face racial discrimination all the time, and yet issues surrounding race continue to not be addressed by the United States government. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, one out of every three black boys can expect to go to prison in their lifetime and one out of six Latinx boys can expect to enter the criminal justice system. In comparison, one out of every seventeen white boys will enter the prison system. This is just one of the many issues that are caused by institutionalized racism. And even beyond systemic racism lies the targeted racism that people of color experience every day, from the wary looks by people on the street, to not being paid equally to their white counterparts, to being followed around in a store. Many people of color will not have the same opportunities as white people, because they have been restricted by their skin color before they could even walk. People have resisted racism since the beginning of slavery, and yet four hundred years later we still need to fight against it. Racism is deeply rooted in U.S. history and everyone’s lives, no matter their race. We have had many tragedies and accomplishments around the issues of race, racism, and equity; Black History Month and MLK Day are a reminder for us to pay attention and remember all of our history.
At Northwest, the Friday before MLK Day weekend was set aside to recognize the holiday. It was led by a student committee that dedicated hours of their after school time for six weeks to plan the annual MLK Day celebration. Their goal was to educate Northwest students about race and provide spaces for people to talk about their experiences with race. Northwest strives to include and be aware of the world around us. The annual MLK Day celebration is one of the many ways Northwest celebrates diversity and emphasizes the community’s power and responsibility to fight for liberation, as it is the responsibility of the privileged to protect the oppressed.
As much as Black History Month is a reminder to continue to stand up against racism, it is also a time to center Black excellence and teach about the forgotten black inventors, activists, scientists, artists, and all those who have changed our society for the better. Listen to the presentations organized by the Black Student Union and take the time to learn Black history this month. Read a poem by Maya Angelou, learn how 15-year-old Claudette Colvin protested her bus seat before Rosa Parks and google who invented the traffic stoplight. Black people have shaped our lives more than most people think, partly due to the lack of education around black figures compared to the white figures in our history. The education of important figures of all races should be required in classes, but because that is not the reality, take the time to do it this month in honor of those not remembered for their advancements and accomplishments.
It is hoped by the MLK Day committee that everyone took away the key ideas from the 2020 MLK day celebration and are now ready to celebrate Black History Month this year. During February’s teachings and celebrations, ask yourself what you are doing for the advancement of equity – are you initiating conversation with your parents or friends? Are you engaging in social justice interest groups or affinity spaces? The push against systems of oppression in the world continues, and your fellow Northwest students are working to arm you with the tools to fight alongside them. It is your job to use the education you have received to support your peers and communities in the quest for liberation.