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FEATURES Feb 21 2013 6:59PM

What Black History Months Means to Me

I was born in May of 1962.  Black History is a living, breathing thing that has been a part of my existence since I was a child.  When I was in school in the ’60s, Black History month did not exist. I always lived in a Black neighborhood and went to Black schools, both public and private. My teachers taught us Black History in addition to the normal curriculum. As Black men and women themselves, I believe they felt compelled to balance out the history books we had; books that made it seem as if slaves were "happy" being slaves. They showed sketches of smiling "negroes" dancing and singing. There were no unpleasant photographs of the whips and lashes or the countless rapes. I suppose that wasn't appropriate. 

We always learned about all of the famous White men and women who helped to shape the history of our country. All of their information, edited and made appropriate for young children, was included in our textbooks. But when we read about Frederick Douglas or W.E.B. DuBois, that was a separate handout from our teacher. It was a mimeograph (this was a copy before Xerox) of facts from books that teachers had taken out of the library. They created a separate curriculum to teach us young, gifted and Black children who we were. 

You notice that I am using the term "Black" and not "African-American." Black was a term we fought. We were "Negroes" for a very long time. The word Black was everything negative. It was the word my mother and father's parents ran away from because it meant nothing good for them or to them. Negro was somehow more dignified. Then, after the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, Black was the term that had been embraced. We were Black, and proud of it. The term "Negro" wreaked of Uncle Tom and just wasn't forward thinking. Now, we are African-American. I use the term because it is politically correct, but in my heart, in my soul, I will always be a Black woman.

I remember being a young girl, maybe about 9, and my mother was taking my brother and me to a street fair. It was in Brooklyn, being given by an organization then known as the East. I knew that it was an Afro-centric type event and being the "girl" that I was, I focused on what I was going to wear. I put on my "Black Power" as if it were an outfit. My mother let me have it. She sat me down and explained that what I was referring to as an "outfit" or "style" was in fact a culture, and until I fully understood that culture and what it meant, I should not play at being it. I did not completely understand what she meant at the time, but it was a conversation I never forgot and one upon I would reflect often. 

My heroes and she-roes in Black History were the countless many whose names I did not know but whose existence made it possible for me to be alive. They were the men and women who came here in the ships and the many who died in transit. The men and women who endured life as slaves. When I learned about this, I could not understand how they did it. And they not only lived, but they lived and worshipped, and found joy and made families and had children. Many of them had children as a result of rape. Some fell in love with their oppressors, never to be treated as an equal or a love. They were always lesser than. How did they survive, and since they did, what is there in this world that I cannot achieve and become?

My husband and I teach our babies every single day that they are capable of being anything and doing anything they set their minds.  Black History is a daily thing that I feel we live. I am happy that there is a mandatory focus on it one month out of the year. I believe it may be a time, in some schools, where discussion is sparked that may not occur at other times. But, more important, is shifting the conversation in schools for the history of this country to not just highlight White America and Black America, but also our Latino brothers and sisters, the Native Americans, Asians, etc.  After all, we are the melting pot. We are the country that all others come to for wealth, fortune and fame. White America is quickly becoming the minority. 

Once I saw that Carol's Daughter could be something big, one of my goals was to document its origins, as they related to and came out of my life. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be today to read the actual words of Madame C.J. Walker about how and why she started her business and what it was like for her; her actual words, not as told by someone else. I decided I would write a memoir so that someone researching me later would have the facts, as told by me. Then, I decided that I never want the business to go away. Again, going back to Madame Walker, how great would it be to buy her product still, today? What I love about her story is that she came into this world working the land and then became a Black woman who owned land. Can you imagine that? And, she did not just do it for herself, she brought other women with her. An amazing example of "each one, teach one."

I have had the honor over the years of being the subject of Black History Month projects by children in school and it is very surreal to me. I am happy that it happens as it serves as a reminder that I am being watched, and I have a responsibility to bring others up after me, do right and be right, because, like it or not, I am a role model. 

In closing, I leave you with some of my favorite words written by Shawn Jay-Z Carter:

"Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk.
Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run.
Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly.
So, I’mma spread my wings, you can meet me in the sky."


Lisa M. Price
Carol's Daughter


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