By now, all of us in Houston, the home of NASA, are more than familiar with the inspiring true story, Hidden Figures, of three extraordinary Black women – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – who helped America win the Space Race.
It is the kind of story that all too often is only told during the Black History Month of February.
The best-selling book by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film, opened the eyes of little girls across America, let them dream that they, too, can change the world and reminded us all that Black History is American History.
One cannot fully understand America without reference to African Americans. To appreciate the Constitution, to understand the Civil War, and to make sense of present-day political realities, requires understanding of the history shaped through the interactions of African Americans with other cultures.
So why is it that the other 11 months of the year do not reflect this undeniable truth?
Black History Month predominantly survives out of neglect. Schools too often shortchange the pivotal contributions of African Americans and other minorities. Either by design or default, history is diluted for all learners – skimming over painful episodes while marginalizing the contributions of African Americans and people of color.
When we begin to accurately teach the history of all the people in an integrated and balanced way, we will no longer need Black History Month, Hispanic History Month, and so on.
Furthermore, we must look at how the media contributes to this. The majority of African Americans we see in television shows are still shown in a negative light – as lawbreakers, as those who don’t value education and family.
And yet, we continue to make history and impact the world in a positive way. One example came in 2008 when the first ever Black president, Barack Obama, was elected. He served two terms and was not surrounded by scandal like our current so-called leader is.
Obama made a considerable effort to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. He believed, as I do, that it is possible to work together with those who may not share all the same beliefs to make a greater change.
Obama never negatively referenced someone’s country of origin nor has he tried to pit minorities against one another. He did and still believes in dreamers.
Moreover, his example went beyond the political realm. Barack and Michelle changed the narrative of the Black couple and family. They showed to the masses what we already know but is seldom shown to the world – that there is such thing as an educated and loving Black family.
The positive image and example set by the Obamas prompted me to hold an essay contest for students ages 13 to 18 years old.
I want to hear from young people as to why they believe it is important that more positive images are shown of Black people in television, movies and music. I want to know what they are doing to ensure their communities continue to take strides in the right direction.
Cinema is taking these strides with the highly anticipated movie, Black Panther — making history, with almost an entirely Black cast.
Students must submit their essays by February 20th to JarvisJohnson.org. I am going to take the first 300 students who submit to see Black Panther.
I look forward to learning from these young minds.