Commentary: Celebrating Black History Month Today

Friday, 03 February 2012 16:34 Written by  Hiba Abdillahi

Growing up on the north side of Chicago, I attended George B. Armstrong Elementary of International Studies. I pride myself on learning everything I have today because of that school. When I was in elementary school, Black History Month was the only time we would ever learn about Madam CJ Walker, Maya Angelou, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, Garrett Augustus Morgan and Jackie Robinson. Not only did we know their names, but we spent the whole month of February learning about the lives and history of African Americans. We had assemblies, made poster boards, and even played trivia games on the subject of black history. At a young age, I knew that these people played a huge part in not only black history, but in history–period.


Since Black History Month is upon us, it got me thinking: Does anyone even celebrate it anymore? For adults, this history has become common knowledge, but it is the younger generation that I am worried about. My siblings are 13 and 9, and I feel that their schools are not teaching them everything they need to know about black history. Last year, I asked my little sister (9) what they were doing in her classroom to celebrate Black History Month. Her response, “Nothing,” surprised me. Confused, I didn’t know if I should talk to the school board, or teach her myself. Graduating from that school district, I know that not much “celebration” is done during February. If anything, African American students would stand up and put a celebration together. I asked my brother (13) and he had the same response. Was Black History Month necessary?

Black History Month, created by Carter G. Woodson in 1926, was formed with the purpose of informing the public about African Americans. It started out as just one week, called “Negro Week.” Woodson wanted to somehow incorporate black history into regular American history. Is his work still being done? It has been a long time since the Civil Rights Movement, and times have certainly changed, but if we don’t know our past, how could we have a future?

Yes, racism isn’t as extensive (or blatant) as it was back in the 1960’s, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Yes, whites and blacks live among each other now without violence, but kids should know that there once was a time when that didn’t apply. While it is not necessary to pound thoughts of racism into the heads of our children, it is necessary to inform them about the some times harsh reality of it. It is important to know about slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Civil War: We need to remember how all of those events helped shape how we live today.

I asked my little brother his thoughts on the subject. “I think that it is important to learn about your past. There is a reason why it is history, we need to learn about it,” said Hanad Abdillahi, 13, John F. Kennedy Middle School. I believe many young students feel the same way.

Our president is African American, and to have come that far and still see that schools are not teaching kids about African American history is appalling. I took it upon myself to teach my siblings that George Washington Carver invented modern day peanut butter; that Maya Angelou is one of the most famous female African American poets; that Bessie Coleman was the first female aviator; and finally that Thurgood Marshall was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. All of this they didn’t know––because their schools never informed them.

It’s clear that there is a need, and a want, for this education.

“We only ever talk about Martin Luther King Jr. We don’t talk about the others. I think we should learn more about the people in our past,” said Hanan Abdillahi, 9, Eichelberger Elementary.

Hiba Abdillahi

Hiba Abdillahi

Hiba Abdillahi is a student at Columbia College Chicago, majoring in broadcast journalism. She aspires to be an international correspondent.

Hiba can be contacted at