Celebrate Black Influence

Brandon Smith, Contributer

Happy Black History Month!

Every year during the month of February we celebrate several prominent Black Americans who have made an impact. From Civil Rights activists to musicians, athletes, and inventors, Black Americans play an important role in American culture and have earned their place in history. Recently the celebration of Black History Month has become controversial. In several states, including Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas, legislation involving Critical Race Theory has complicated the teaching of Black history. On NPR, teachers expressed their frustrations of feeling limited, and The New York Times also documented these frustrations. These frustrations have also been felt in Alabama with AL.com reporting that Alabama state Superintendent Eric Mackay received several parental complaints about Black history month programs. He said, “Having a Black history program is not CRT.”

Teaching Black history is teaching American history. The foundations of modern America are built on the backs of those who came before us, and we should acknowledge their efforts. Does it also mean learning about racial injustice? Yes, because we hope that we never repeat our ancestors’ mistakes or normalize their prejudices again. It is also important to celebrate Black history because black cultural influences can be identified in almost every aspect of American life. True patriots would not be ashamed in learning how Black Americans have helped to shape our country.

In the realm of fashion, popular shoe brands often owe their successes to their celebrity sponsors. Air Jordan and Nike Air Force sneakers are two prime examples of shoe brands that became incredibly sought after a black athlete endorsed their product, thus increasing their sales.

And you can’t talk about prominent Black influences without talking about the music and sports industry. Popular artists like Nicki Minaj, Kayne West, Beyonce, and Rihanna are all well-known names in the music industry. Athletes like Serena Williams, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kobe Bryant (Rest In Power, King) are also household names. Many in Alabama are sports fans and treat popular sports like football and basketball like a religion. Some of the same people who confuse Black history with CRT also beamed with pride when Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was named the Heisman trophy winner.

Brandon Smith, graphics artist

AAVE, African American Vernacular English, is widely used and so normalized that it has entered the everyday vocabulary of Americans across the nation. It is language from our black peers that many of these words originate. Words like “homie,’ “brother,” (pronounced with a soft ‘a’ rather than a hard ‘er’), “sis,’ or “bestie” are all words that would fit under the umbrella of AAVE. Those words are often used to indicate a bond, usually in friendship or brother/sisterhood. Praises like “king” and “queen” or affirmations like the use of the word “period” in a sentence are all popular sayings today that originated from urban Black communities. In an examination of the Madison community, Black influence is prevalent here as well. Many students at Bob Jones listen to Black rap and pop artists. AAVE has become so popular that we can see it in the language of students here at Bob Jones. Junior Madison Tanner said that it “has passed into the broader lexicon [of American English]”.

In a survey, Bob Jones students were asked to name an important Black figure of influence. Some students cited activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks for teaching them to stand up for themselves against adversity. Others spoke about Black influencers like Oprah or TikToker Monet McMichael who uses social media to encourage change and for us to act kindly towards one another. More mentioned creative forces like Louis Armstrong and Frank Ocean, author Toni Morrison, and Daryl Davis, a musician, author, and activist who is directly responsible for convincing somewhere between 40-60 KKK members to renounce the supremacist group. Others mentioned past leaders like Harriet Tubman who risked her life to lead slaves to freedom and Malcolm X who lead the Black Panther in protecting black neighborhoods. 

In honor of Black history month, Mrs. Cindy Huskey, our Bob Jones media librarian, displayed books written by black authors or that showcase a black protagonist within the novel. Though there are many books on display, she recommends the following:

  • Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson – a fictional murder mystery that follows the journey of a newfound black talent in discovering who has murdered her mentor
  • You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson – following a black LGBTQ+ protagonist in her high school journey
  • I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal – Two scared women hide and attempt to escape safely after a riot breaks out at a football game
  • Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuahi – A nonfiction text following the real-life story and experiences shared by the author to readers
  • And lastly, any book that was written by Zora Neale Hurston with whom Mrs. Huskey is sure she was friends in a past life. Many students will remember reading her book, Their Eyes were Watching God, in the tenth grade, and on display Mrs. Huskey has Hurston’s Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick

During Black History Month (and always), put the CRT confusion aside and acknowledge the struggle to overcome racial injustice and appreciate the wealth of cultural influence.