Celebrating Black History Month with the Arts

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Throughout February, people across the United States celebrate African American history and culture in various ways, from tribute paintings to MLK remembrances to stand-up poetry about the ongoing struggle for unity. 

Black History Month is a time to remember the hardships that a large group of Americans had to overcome to gain equal opportunities in a society where the odds were clearly against them. It is a time to celebrate the achievements of civil rights activists, named and unnamed, and to appreciate the contributions African American communities have made to the nation’s greater narrative. It is a time to recognize the once untold history of the United States. 

Edward Hairston, science teacher and head track and field coach, said, “Black History is American History. This fact is oftentimes lost by those who opt-out or choose to see the month as a time of performative remembrance. Just as American history is very dense and complex, so is the history of black excellence and black struggle. It extends far beyond the acknowledgment of achievements by MLK, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and other token black icons. Black History is intertwined with each and every moment of the history of our country. It is important to become more knowledgeable about the unfiltered experiences of black people on American soil if we wish to be a truly united human race.”

Black History Month celebrates Black Americans who contributed to much of the art and culture we appreciate today. This month, we must learn from the mistakes the nation has made in the past in order to truly unify society.

English teacher Douglas Brown said, “If people start to look at African Americans in more dimensional ways, I think they will take away a greater understanding of all cultures and how all cultures have this multiplicity of not just experience but talents, joys and contributions to American society. That is the beauty of this place. If we can look at it through a textured understanding of African Americans, I think people will grow an understanding of who we are.”

Black History Month is celebrated through multiple visual art forms including paintings, drawings and decorations which help spread awareness of the month’s deeply rooted significance. The visual aspects are very important. They function as a universal and accessible language that everyone can understand, allowing us to further understand the history, culture and stories behind Black history.

Brown said, “I would also encourage people to look at any website of a local museum, especially The Broad, with a brilliant collection. If people are really interested, I think they should look at the Black Arts Movement. It was a movement in the 60s and early 70s that was rooted in literature and theatre but was really elevated by the visual artists.”

Hairston stated, “This month gives me the opportunity to celebrate Black history in creative ways. Recently my family and I have engaged in Black Lives Matter poster decorating contests, showing our artistic talent.”

Not only do visual arts contribute to the celebration of Black History Month, but we use the art of music as well. Music such as jazz, soul and modern hip-hop are just a few genres that can help us appreciate Black History Month more fully.

Hairston told us, “As a subcategory of the musical art form, jazz is my favorite. Jazz was created in the Black communities of the south. Jazz is not unique to Black culture in that it is very widespread and enjoyed by many. However, jazz reflects the adaptability of Black people in America. There have been many systemic obstacles established by the dominant powers in our country that have prevented many Black people from achieving upward mobility and even feeling at home in their own nation. As jazz is a musical genre based on the ability to improvise, Black people have had to be great improvisers in order to excel as much as they have in the face of so many obstacles.” 

Poetry and the spoken word, too, are key vehicles that black artists used to express themselves, especially during that Harlem Renaissance, a period of outburst in black culture in the early 1900s. 

Brown stated, “As a poet, I believe poetry is one of the main things people should celebrate in Black History Month. Poets.org does a thing called “poem-a-day,” where every day there is a new poem that gets emailed to people who sign up. So people get to see new African American poets and I would encourage people to sign up for that.”

Here at Loyola, attending African American Student Association’s meetings is a great way to learn more about black history and culture. This community also offers a way to celebrate this culture at the annual African American Student Association Luncheon. 

Hairston stated, “It means the world to be able to share in the experiences of the Loyola Cubs in the AASA. As a club, Black History Month, just as any other month, is full of conversations focused on issues facing the Black community. Although, during February we have a luncheon that brings together Loyola families as well as some of our brother and sister schools.  Celebrating Black history involves an excavation of the past, awareness of the present, and an ongoing cultivation for the future. This is a very voluminous process and cannot sit on the shoulders of one club at Loyola to deliver. Thus, the AASA is open to all students and faculty to attend year-round to become involved in celebrating Black history.” 

Brown stated, “Our numbers for African Americans are a lot smaller than they used to be than back in the day, and we had to think about that and make sure that African American students always feel welcome, always have a place and a voice in all facets on the campus. So what I think as a moderator is that all of us understand that we need to push students outside their comfort zone and push them to do other things other than sports or being a regular classroom student.” 

As a Loyola community, it is essential to take this February to promote our school’s mission and lend our voices to other members in our community who may need them. Celebrating black history this month-long holiday and beyond is crucial to progressing our world into a future of love, kindness, respect, and equality.

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