Is This My Month or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

E on DC

It’s February again. Should I celebrate Black History Month or just St. Valentine’s Day? Which is more difficult – being black or falling in love?

What I love about DC, is that it’s a city where history can jog or walk alongside you. This city is almost Ground Zero if you want to remember the Civil War. I keep thinking one day I’m going to run into Walt Whitman caring for black youth near Gallery Place.

The world keeps changing and now and then I notice that I’ve been moving a little slower. I also find old habits and behavior slipping away without a wave or a hint of a good-bye. I would hate for Black History Month to disappear like Saturday mail or bus service in Southeast Washington. With all this post-racial lint and ash being attracted to black bodies one never knows. I can see Black History Month ending like a librarian deselecting a collection of books.

Before I lived in D.C., I lived in the South Bronx. In the years before rap music, the cold air would blow down Longwood Avenue and come February one thought about getting out of school on Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays and about cutting out hearts for Valentine’s Day.

There was only Negro History Week then. Teachers made bulletin board displays and George Washington Carver appeared like the old black man on the box of Uncle Ben’s rice. No one told me that the historian Carter G. Woodson started the whole thing back in 1926.

It was 1959 and I was into playing baseball even in the snow. I was nine and blackness was seen primarily in the rocks of coal being delivered to my apartment building. My father worked in the post-office, having come to America from Panama, his father staying behind resulted in his roots being cut in half like a canal across his heart. I came of age without any real knowledge of segregation or the Civil Rights Movement. I was the baby in the family protected from my own ignorance. Looking back on my childhood, I wish I had been given more than a flu shot of Negro History Week. Even today my body needs more than a month of Black History.

The present continues to be a dangerous place to live. I walk these DC streets, I ride the buses, I listen to the profanity of school children, I see and no longer see the homeless, or the men with dirt and construction mud on their clothes, women waiters, secretaries, busboys, government workers, and everyone from Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Bosnia, Korea, North Carolina and Louisiana. History descends and pulls all of us into a strange gumbo. How best to make sense out of all these ingredients? What is the history of all this?

At times we all need to see the green lights. We need to know when to – go. Hopefully, an understanding of history provides a roadmap. How many times have I been lost in this city? A neighborhood changes, we give a street a different name. What will be the “history” of all this new construction around town? Will Black History Month one day be taught and celebrated in a city with just a few black people? Will Chuck Brown be just a street and Duke Ellington a building?

Memories are the things we cannot forget. There is so much Black History I still know nothing about. Every month there is something new to learn. Lincoln is in the movies – true Emancipation is still a coming attraction. Be sure to check out the trailer this month.