As a black mother who celebrates her blackness every single day, you might think that I would take a knee once Black History Month rolls around every February. But in light of recent events — from the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy to that ridiculous Happy Slave book Scholastic published (and then pulled from print) back in January — how can I? I feel like this month is as much a call to action for me as it is for anyone, if for no other reason than for each of us to improve our own cultural awareness. And for parents, that goes for our families, too. I myself have three kids, and I consider it both a privilege and a duty to help them understand their culture — past, present, and future.
Of course, when your kids are little, finding ways to celebrate Black History Month can seem a whole lot easier. But if you’re like me, and have older kids or even teens, the task can feel much more daunting. You want to find activities that will interest them, but you also want to make sure they’re not so educational that your kids will basically see your outing as a boring extension of school.
I was thinking about all of this recently when I had the opportunity to meet with the great poet and educator Haki Madhubuti at his Third World Press Foundation headquarters last month. It was then that he shared with me his practice of taking a family’s “cultural temperature,” to establish a starting line for increasing awareness:
“I can walk into your home and tell you exactly where you are culturally. I can look on your walls and see if there are images of your family, or black visual artists … I can look at your bookcase, because you are what you read … I can look at your CD collection. Is it great black music or is it all ‘booty call’ music? … I can look at your DVDs, your playlist on your TV. But to really tell where a family is you go to their children. What’s on their walls? … If the children aren’t conscious then the adults aren’t conscious. If you don’t know your name then anybody can name you. That’s what’s happening to black people in America, we don’t have our name.”
Once I got home, I took a look around. My kids and I actually moved this summer, downsizing from our house in Chicago to a small rental bungalow in the suburbs. I was happy to discover our new home still radiates with cultural heat — but I took every bit of his message to heart.
Here’s what I took away from Professor Madhubuti’s advice:
1. Embrace all kinds of art.
To cultivate an eye for art you need to truly experience it, in all its forms. Now is an especially good time to find black art exhibits, tours, and lectures right in your area in honor of Black History Month. You could potentially take a family picture in front of an exhibit or display (if museum rules allow). You can also start a mini collection of your own with paintings from The Black Art Depot or prints from The African American Art Store. Add these to your walls at home, connecting your cultural adventures to your home décor, raising your temp.
We have old family photos all over our walls and mantles now. They help us openly celebrate our time together, and what makes each of us special as individuals. I also unboxed numerous pieces of black art that had been in storage for almost a decade. The combination definitely projects pride into the room.
2. Add to your bookshelves.
Story time was one of our favorite activities when my kids were young. They still love a good trip to the bookstore, but can now appreciate talk-backs with actual authors. Listening to an author first hand can really help a child learn how to unearth and document their own stories, so they can speak their own truth. If your kids are old enough, listen to a TED Talk together. Check out this list of 32 incredible Ted Talks by Black Women or one of these popular TED Talks on race.
My own bookshelves are overflowing with biographies and fiction that run the gamut of culture, black and others. We even have books in other languages. That inclusiveness of other viewpoints and traditions represents our willingness to keep and open mind and heart, resisting misunderstanding that can be born from ignorance.
3. Revisit your Netflix queue (and fill it with more than just rom coms).
Diversifying what we watch is a whole lot easier these days, thanks to streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Plus the Internet is full of lists of films to help guide your efforts to expand your cultural horizons. To celebrate Black History Month, check out this list of 50 classic black films to help you get started. PBS has also has a pretty rich schedule of black history movies running this month as well. Still, there’s definitely something to be said about seeing a movie in a theater — check out your local art house theaters, as well as local museums.
Our own DVR playlist has documentaries, movies, and The Wiz Live saved. Our DVD collection is teeming with diverse casts and stories. My hope is that this allows my children to imagine themselves in the action, not just as a passive member of the audience. You can’t dream what you can’t imagine.
4. Hit up your local museums.
Walking the halls of an African American History Museum is a great way to surround your family in black culture. Hands-on exhibits are perfect for sparking curiosity in little kids, and increasing consciousness in big ones. If you’re not sure where to go, here’s a comprehensive list of African American Museums across the country to help you get started. But if you still can’t find one in your area, you can also take a virtual tour of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, or others like it.
My family makes it a practice to bring their museum experiences home to the dinner table for continued discussions. Open your family to new perspectives by drawing connections from the past to current events, contemplating solutions for the future. Encourage your children to ask questions and then together seek out information to help you construct an answer or at least move closer to finding one.
Critical thinking, open discussion, positive reinforcement — that is what will bring us closer together, raising our collective cultural temperature.More On