Every year, Black History Month rolls around, and I’m left challenged both personally and professionally. How am I suppose to educate others about our historical feats, and the fights that got us here, when I’m still learning about them myself? How do I encourage others to partake in the appreciation of my culture without unassumingly contributing to the appropriation of its many facets. Perhaps, I’m overthinking it all, but I feel such care is necessary when so many have gotten it wrong, and I want to be among those who get it right.
Yes, I am Black, and I can, in fact, get it wrong…but I’m going to make my best attempt.
I think the easiest way to start is to recognize that Black History cannot be summed up in 28 days. I know some marketing companies may be shaking in their boots, trying to plan the best course of action to do this month justice, but here’s the thing…If you’re not bolstering Black stories, businesses, artists, initiatives, etc. throughout the rest of the year, that’s not “strong marketing” that you’re doing in February. That, my dear, is…
The point that I’m trying to make is that Black History was, and is, happening daily—and it should be recognized as such. It should also be noted that Black excellence doesn’t just reside within the confines of the most notable facts and figures. It’s stretched far beyond Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Robert Church, and other widely recognized names. In Memphis, a city where Black people make up over 60% of its population, we are privileged to have so many examples of the strength, talent, and tenacity that have been personified generation after generation.
So, I guess my question for you is this: how will you make an effort to dive into our city’s Black History, and to uplift Black stories and—and people—from here on out? I’m not saying that I have all the answers, but I have a few suggestions that might help you not only make the make the most of this month, but keep that momentum going year after year.
Support Your Local Black Community
From our kitchens to our cultural institutions, creative industries, and more, Black folks have been thriving in our city for centuries—and we want to keep it that way. To help, we created a guide that’s a living record of local, black-owned businesses that you can refer to when you want to, as Wesley Snipes once said, “bet on Black.”
Worthwhile Black Reads for Black History Month & Beyond
When we open ourselves up to listen and deeply examine the varying journeys and perspectives of Black Americans, we allow ourselves the opportunity to learn something new and renew our commitment to forging a more compassionate and equitable society. We asked eight Memphians to share a book, article, or documentary that’s provided new insight into an issue or has guided their approach to their work in the community—and we invite you learn about the works that impacted them. They may just impact your life, too.
Black History Months Events: It’s Time for Celebrations & Revelations
Many local institutions are inviting Memphians and the masses to examine Black History through a local lens.
- Catch Collage Dance Collective’s Televised “Rise” Performance- Feb. 1
I can’t think of a better way to cap off the first day of Black History Month than to watch as Collage Dance Collective uses their talents to pay tribute to the pioneers whose contributions have been felt across generations. The performance will be aired at 6:30PM on WREG3.
Learn more here.
- Head to the Summer Drive In to see Black History on the Big Screen- Feb. 2
Y’all know how Sundance Film Festival made its way to Memphis, thanks to Indie Memphis? Well, it just so happens that the two screenings happening on February 2nd, Ailey and Judah and the Black Messiah, give a nod to Black culture and catharsis. The screenings kick off at 6PM.
Learn more about the festivities here.
- Hear powerful proclamations during Hattiloo Theatre’s Say it Loud Series- Every Tuesday and Thursday in February at 6PM
Watch as actors from the only freestanding Black repertory theatre in five surrounding states perform speeches that were delivered by trailblazers like John H. Lewis, Booker T. Washington, Fannie Lou Hammer, Shirley Chisholm, and more.
Tune in here.
- Turn up the volume for Levitt Shell’s Black History Month Series- Every Saturday in February at 6:30PM
One thing about the Levitt Shell is they gon’ always give us some soulful sounds. They’re bringing back their virtual concert series for the month, and the line up includes the McCrary Sisters, Bettie Smith, Rhodes Jazz ft. Joyce Cobb, and more.
Each show will be streamed on their Facebook page.
- Learn about the African American History of Elmwood Cemetery- Feb. 16
Many African American musicians, physicians, saints, and more were laid to rest in Elmwood Cemetery—and during this one-hour virtual presentation, you’ll learn about how each of them lived, loved, worked, and contributed to the history of Memphis and United States.
Register to join in here.
- Listen to the Greats with Stax Music Academy- Feb. 17
Music has played a pivotal role in the fight for racial justice, and Stax Music Academy plans to blend the past with the present during their virtual Black History Month production. Not only will you be listening to legends like Al Green, Mavis Staples, Aretha, and more, but the SMA students are bringing original music too. Oh, and if you’re a teacher or parent of a young student, SMA will be providing study guides to help frame and shape conversations of key themes related to the show.
RSVP to the event here.
- Test Your Black History Month Knowledge with the Memphis Public Libraries- Feb. 23
Calling all teens! How much do you know about the Black leaders who were pioneering long before you were born? The Memphis Public Libraries invite you to test your wits and/or learn something new during Black History Month Virtual Jeopardy.
Register here. (P.S. Registration doesn’t open until the 15th)
- Cazateatro Theatre Group invites you to learn about Afro-Latinos’ Valuable Contributions- Feb. 24-27
While we commonly learn about the accomplishments made by historic Black figures, the imperative contributions made by Afro-Latinos are often left out of the conversation. Cazateatro Theatre is providing four days of programming that utilizes music, dance, poetry, and more to shed light on a different side of Black culture.
Find more details on Cazateatro’s Facebook page.
- Plan your own safer-at-home learning with the Advance Memphis Black History Month Family Guide
In addition to their programs promoting workforce and economic development in South Memphis, Advance Memphis is committed to promoting equity, combating racial injustice, and building a culture of appreciation for Black people and history. They’ve created a Black History Month Family Guide full of Memphis-centric Black history, along with activities for kids and families—crossword puzzles, coloring pages, and more.