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 achievements don’t solely 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’s been personified generation after generation.
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 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.”
Reflect on Black Memphis with music
“As we walk into Black History Month, we have an opportunity to listen intently. “All These Dreams: Black Memphis in Song” Part II includes lifelong and short-term African-American neighbors whose creativity is intrinsically linked to their time in our city. Enjoy each rhythm, examine each story, and walk your path with their message in mind.” – Jared “Jay B. Boyd
Explore the Evolution of Soulsville with Stax Music Academy
For the third year in a row, you’re invited to log in online to connect with the power of community and the rich musical history of Stax Records as Stax Music Academy presents Soul of America: An Evolution of Soulsville—a multimedia experience offering free entertainment and education to music-lovers from Memphis and around the globe.
Celebrate liberation through literature with cafe noir at crosstown
The folks at Cafe Noir are well known for the work they do to highlight books written by BIPOC authors—and they’re taking it up a notch to host a festival full of liberating, literary expression.
In it’s first year, “Literature is Liberating” features a lineup of discussions, book readings, film screenings, performances, and more that will entice you to dive in deeper as you discover the world of Black wordsmiths.
Behold Black History Through Ballet with collage dance collective
On February 4th & 5th, you’re invited to experience Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Mountaintop” speech through movement as Collage Dance Collective’s “Rise” performance returns to revere the triumphs and trials of a troubled past.
Examine the African American History of Elmwood Cemetery
Many African American musicians, physicians, saints, and more were laid to rest in Elmwood Cemetery—and during this one-hour virtual, or in-person, presentation, you’ll learn about how each of them lived, loved, worked, and contributed to the history of Memphis and United States.
Honor afro-latino culture, contributions, and. accomplishments
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. Starting February 22nd, Cazateatro Theatre Group is providing three days of programming that utilizes music, dance, poetry, and more to shed light on a different side of Black culture during Afro-Latino Week.
Catch a film for the culture
For the month of February, the Crosstown Arts Film Series will highlight features that focus on Black love, Black fantasy, Black beauty standards, Black coming-of-age experiences, and more.
There's more to do during the month—and on the daily—as we work to uplight our black community.
- 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.
Plan your family’s learning time and tune in to the Advance Memphis Instagram feed for giveaways featuring Black artists!