The perception is beginning to match the reality. The truth is leading us backward.
So let’s take a step back.
For generations, Black History Month used to be about remembering the cycle of slavery and what life used to be like for Black people in the United States, said Donna Neil-Demir, RN, Zakat Foundation of America’s health advisor. A Black woman.
Black History Month has become about how Black people in the United States have overcome these issues, honoring pioneers, not just among Black people but throughout society. The perception about Black history is beginning to match the reality of its excellence. The truth is leading us back to our innate understanding of equality.
With that excellence comes recognition, and that recognition must lead to representation. That one step backward has to lead to more than two steps forward — and we can’t keep going back to achieve progress.
Neil-Demir was a child of the civil rights movement who grew up in a household with older siblings who marched forward with Dr. King. Her social justice advocacy was something that would just naturally follow suit. The times were not unlike now in a sense where you had to choose your own path, she said, focusing on what it means to obtain one’s rights.
Honoring Black History Month, especially this year, means not letting Black Americans who were historically actively overlooked be set aside any longer. It’s about consciously fighting off the ignorance it takes to pretend the United States’ history was always noble and flawless.
It also means not repeating the practices of shutting Black people out. And beyond that, it means more than just representation — it means proper, accurate, effective representation. Even with that, there must be people willing to listen.
“If you don’t have the proper voice, there’s no speech. If the ears aren’t open, nobody will hear,” Neil-Demir said. “Representation is absolutely necessary, and it has to be a two-way street. We’ve had centuries of voices — when you say proper representation — we’ve had centuries of those, centuries of protests, movements.”
There have always been movements and a voice, but there hasn’t always been someone willing to hear, she said. She said the question might not be “How important is proper representation?”