Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Bringing Black history to life

4th January 2016   ·   0 Comments

I received a call from a Louisiana Weekly reader who asked for suggestions about how she might engage her peers and younger members of her family in positive activities during Kwanza, Black History Month and beyond. After gathering my thoughts and reflecting on the needs of communities of color, I shared the following list of suggestions and activities with her.

• Start a book, music or film collection. Make a commitment to collecting music, DVDs and/or literature that uplift your spirit and spark your creativity. This is helpful, particularly to aspiring artists. Partaking in the creativity of others can often spark our own creativity and inspire us to find our own voice and share it with others. There are lots of places and events to search for items to place in your collection, including book stores, flea markets, classified ads, retail outlets that carry used CDs and DVDs, book fairs, garage sales and web sites like The Community Book Center is a great place to begin your quest.

• Host monthly or weekly mini-film festivals in your home. Gather up some of your favorite DVDs and invite friends, loved ones and neighbors over to enjoy them. If we can get together to watch a Super Bowl or “Saturday Night Live” parodies of Sarah Palin, certainly we can come together to enjoy a classic or contemporary African-American film.

Select a theme or common denominator for these film festivals. For example, celebrate the courage and sacrifices of Black soldiers by showing films like Glory, Proud, The Tuskegee Airmen, Men Of Honor, A Soldier’s Story and Miracle At St. Anna. Celebrate Black love, family and relationships by offering guests a buffet of films like Love Jones, The Best Man, Claudine, Love & Basketball, This Christmas, Soul Food, Constellation and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Also include seminal Black films like The Education of Sonny Carson, Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust, A Dry White Season, 500 Years Later, Rosewood and the television miniseries “Roots.” Other films you might want to include are Something The Lord Made, A Lesson Before Dying, Down In The Delta, The Learning Tree, Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored, The Piano Lesson, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Mama Flora’s Family, Ray, Nightjohn, Hoop Dreams, Hollywood Shuffle, Our Story, School Daze, Malcolm X, Miss Evers’ Boys, When We Were Kings, Nothing But A Man, The Great White Hope, Lean On Me, Tsotsi, Bopha, Posse and The Five Heartbeats.

For younger guests, offer films about the civil rights movement and Black achievement like Freedom Song, Pride, Akeelah and the Bee, Selma, Lord, Selma, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Sounder, The Ruby Bridges Story and other age-appropriate titles.

Encourage those who participate to offer DVDs from their own film libraries for future get-togethers.

Be sure to get out this year to see Red Tails, a big-screen tribute to the famed Tuskegee Airmen, which is currently in theatres across the country.

• Organize a literary circle and share your writings with the group. Encourage group members to experiment with different genres of writing and compile an annual collection of writings to share with the entire group.

• Establish a men’s group or women’s circle to encourage your peers to share their struggles, challenges and accomplishments with one another. It’s an excellent way to network with one another and a great way to deal with the stress and strife of daily life.

• Organize monthly or bi-monthly outings that expose young people to the cultural and historical riches of Black America. Take them to plays, book readings, lectures and dance recitals. Give them tours of areas with great historical significance to people of African descent like Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park, the Chalmette Battlefield, the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, St. Augustine Church in Tremé, the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument in uptown New Orleans, the African American Resource Center in the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library, the city’s three Black college campuses and the recent plaque commemorating the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

• Start a book club. Get together with your friends and compile a list of books you can read as a group. Get together bi-monthly or whenever your schedules permit and share your thoughts, insights and questions about the books. Be sure to include a wide spectrum of authors and genres on your list, including classic great writers like W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and contemporary writers like John Edgar Wideman.

Don’t be afraid to select reading materials from writers that no one in the group is familiar with. You can expand your horizons together.

Also, be sure to include writers from your city and region like Kalamu ya Salaam, Mona Lisa Saloy, Ernest Gaines and Ernest Hill. Whenever possible, make plans to attend book readings and signings when authors of color visit your city.

• Plan regular outings with your friends or loved ones. Select a different restaurant, bookstore, clothing store, music venue or nightclub to patronize weekly or monthly as your schedules permit. Encourage a local restaurant owner to start a new tradition by organizing a weekend brunch for others seeking family-friendly activities.

• Plan a family outing to visit places and facilities like the River Road African American Museum or the Amistad Research Center. Since 2011 marked the 200th anniversary of the historic 1811 slave revolt, the largest uprising of enslaved Africans in U.S. history, take a tour of the area where the uprising took place. For more information, visit and

• Collect stories about the struggles and achievements of previous generations. Challenge the young people in your church to record interviews with older church members to learn more about that past and to possibly use that footage to create a church documentary. Similar efforts can be pursued to record the knowledge and wisdom of neighbors and elders living in nursing homes. Both young people and the elders benefit from the recording of these very important stories.

• Organize a family reunion. Start reaching out to distant relatives and gather information about the level of interest in bringing the entire family together for a single gathering or a series of family-related events. Be sure to include family reunion events that encourage everyone to get involved in both the planning of activities and the activities themselves.

• Challenge the young people in your family and other young people to tell their story in their own words and images. Encourage your sons, daughters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and others to interview older family members about the family’s history and collect and record these stories using journals, cameras, audio recording instruments and digital video recorders.

Encourage family members to share copies of their favorite photos and create a family scrapbook that includes every generation of the family and incorporates important mementos and documents like wedding programs, newspaper clippings, birth certificates and funeral announcements.

To add a little fun to these projects, challenge the young people in your family to put together a video with music that reflects the family’s history and includes images of loved ones and important family events like weddings, births, funerals, etc. Present the winning family DVD at family gatherings and make copies for relatives who are unable to attend.

There are lots of great ways to celebrate Black history, culture and creativity during the month of February and throughout the year. The journey to the kind of self-discovery that comes with immersing yourself in the rich legacy of the Black experience begins with a single step. Hotep.

This article originally published in the January 4, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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