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Black History Month | Reflections & Recommendations

by Adana Protonentis

And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.

- Maya Angelou, "When Great Trees Fall"

This is my first Black History Month since my mom joined the ancestors. This one hits different. But, as has consistently been the case with grief, it’s different in surprising ways. It’s deeper. It’s more resonant. It’s richer. It’s more joyful. It’s full of contradictions - somehow I feel both more grounded and much lighter, both energized and steady.

This Black History Month, more than most, it feels important to reflect on the Black History Makers whose stories are often unsung. People like my mom, who looked at the world around them and said, “I want more. I choose something different.” Lately, I find myself thinking about my mom’s unapologetic ambition. In a world that so often tells Black folks (and especially Black women!) to ‘know their place’, striving for better is courageous. Believing that you deserve the life of your dreams is an audacious act of resistance. It takes discipline to choose, day after day, to work toward a vision of the future that the present tells you is impossible. To spend your life, in the words of Audre Lorde,

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed


like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours;

This Black History Month, we honor the ambitions of the past that created our present. We honor the Black Future Makers of today who will be the good ancestors of tomorrow.

We honor Bernice Olether Pearson, born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1944. A bold and ambitious woman who refused to accept the limitations of the Jim Crow south and dared to respond to “you can’t” with a firm, “Says who?”

Here’s what we’re reading, listening to, watching, and engaging with as we celebrate the ambitious spirit of “Says who?” We’d love to hear your ‘Says who?” stories about the good ancestors and Black Future Makers in your life. “We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”

“There is a shift afoot in the field, from critiquing white supremacist culture and calling out anti-Blackness to designing for pro-Blackness. So, we followed up with some of the writers who lent their expertise to this edition, and also interviewed Shanelle Matthews, the communications director for the Movement for Black Lives, in order to go more deeply into defining what we mean by pro-Blackness. We asked them the following questions:

What does pro-Black mean?

What are the characteristics of a pro-Black organization?

What would a pro-Black sector sound, look, taste, and feel like?”

SEND: Black Love Cards from the Movement for Black Lives

“This February, join us in celebrating Black history, Black life, Black futures, and Black love.

Over the next several weeks, we will release customizable Black love tarot cards designed by illustrator Alexis Nicole Neely. We encourage you to send these cards to those you care about who manifest love beyond romance, binaries, and capitalism and into the ever-expansive realms of justice and liberation.”

The song "We Could Fly" is from Rhiannon Giddens's 2017 album 'Freedom Highway': The song draws on a heritage of African folklore, capturing an incantatory dialogue between a mother and daughter to celebrate love, resilience, and the spiritual power of the “old-time ways”—tradition and shared cultural memory—to sustain and uplift.”

“BEAM is a national training, movement building, and grant making institution that is dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black and marginalized communities.”

LISTEN + EXPLORE:  The Hope & Hard Pills Podcast

“The Hope & Hard Pills podcast is an invitation to learn about justice and activism from leaders and people with lived experience. Co-hosted by journalist, activist, and author Andre Henry, and musician, writer, and visual artist TRISHES, each episode gives a detailed snapshot about a current issue and invites listeners to activate with empathy and truth.”

“History is typically associated with the past. But history, in its simplest terms, is the study of change over time. Black History Month—an annual occurrence that some also call “Black Futures Month”—provides a timely opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the change and progress that Black people continue to press forward today. 

In this reading list, YES! revisits five stories published since 2022 that spotlight Black people who are creating change today in entertainment, land justice, and more. From a Black futurist approach to social justice, to the essential contributions of Black actresses in sci-fi, to reclaiming stolen lands in solidarity with Indigenous communities, Black people remain drivers of solutions in all kinds of movements and sectors.” 

“Far more than a walking group, GirlTREK is a life-saving sisterhood. We are a campaign to heal intergenerational trauma, fight systemic racism and transform Black lives. As women organize walking teams, they also mobilize community members to support advocacy efforts and lead a Civil Rights-inspired health movement. GirlTREK’s membership is currently at over one million and growing every day.

It started with two friends, T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison in 2010. On November 18, 2020, GirlTREK inspired Shameka Cornelius, its one millionth member, to walk for better health. Today GirlTREK has 1,371,776 members, representing 7% of the total population of African American women.

In addition to unprecedented growth, GirlTREK is influencing millions and shaping a new culture of health. In 2020 alone, GirlTREK stories and campaigns like the #DaughtersOf Conversation Series and Black History Bootcamp: A Walking Podcast earned 271 million impressions, 9 million online engagements and 300+ traditional media stories across 68 countries.”

READ: Black communities are using mapping to document and restore a sense of place, “We have been working on the “Living Black Atlas,” an educational initiative that highlights the neglected history of Black mapmaking in America. It shows thecreative ways in which Black people have historically used mapping to document their stories. Today, communities are using “restorative mapping” as a way to tell stories of Black Americans.”

“Stories reveal what is important, what our values are, what is worthy of preservation. Storytelling, similar to diasporic environmental knowledges, has been a cornerstone of the Black tradition since before the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was (and still is) a way to harbor memory, pass on tradition from generation to generation, and honor the histories that make up Black life. Turning to Black ancestors and contemporary thinkers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Frantz Fanon, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs, we will discuss how our lineage of environmental knowledge, care and stewardship can influence our Black environmental futures. Participants will be encouraged to draw upon their own experiences and engagements with the natural world to generate shared knowledge about Black/nature relationships. At the end of this workshop, participants will leave with a drafted vision of their Black Environmental Future and possible stepping stones (both individual and community based) towards that vision. Special Note: This is an inclusive, all-Black space."

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