Black History Month, which takes place each February, reminds me and other African-Americans of our past and the wrongs committed against our people. However, the real lesson to be learned is not in the pain of the past, but how black Americans have not – and must not – let those events define who we are as individuals.
Yes, there was a time when our ancestors were forcibly taken from their homes, dehumanized, treated like animals and sold into slavery. After slavery, the era of convict leasing became popular. Southern states passed Black Codes, which were laws intended to criminalize people of color.
Because many black people were unable to pay even small jail fines, they were sentenced to labor. As a result, convict laborers were leased to plantations, lumber camps and mines to be used for forced labor. It was the era of slavery by another name.
After convict leasing, African-Americans lived through the horrors of segregation. Today, we now are faced with the difficult issues of prison overpopulation, unfair sentencing regulations and a society that appears to be the most prejudiced and xenophobic in the last 50 years.
But nevertheless, history has taught us to never see these things as the defining characteristics of who we are, but instead to understand that our identity is much bigger and more significant than the circumstances we face.
Real success has never been found in defining ourselves or finding value in what we do in life. Identity is not about what’s readily visible to casual observers. Identity is about what’s deep inside of us, not only our uniqueness as individuals, but also the internal realities that are not determined by anything external.
When we perceive those gifts rightly, we draw strength and pursue our destinies based on the truth of who we really are. Black history is evidence of this.
Everything we think, everything we do, and the entire way we see and relate to ourselves flows from our sense of identity – our personal assessment of who we are and why we are significant. Our identity is the compass that guides us through every aspect of life and keeps us grounded and centered in the things that matter most.
We each figure out who we really are and why we are so valuable one discovery at a time. Often, before we get down to the core of whom we really are, we first have to strip away who we are not.
History is littered with people who have allowed themselves to become stuck in the pain and disappointments of life. While there are some who point fingers of judgement at the statistics and stereotypes of African-Americans, I believe that our history shows that we have the capacity within us to forge into a great future regardless of the obstacles in front of us.
Black history serves as a constant reminder that every challenge that African-Americans have faced and overcome is part of the significant reasons why our identity is so special.