The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity

A message from John Galante, Board Chair

February is Black History Month, but Black History Month's story began in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. September of that same year, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. The group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs, and host performances and lectures. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the Civil Rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

This year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) presented its theme for Black History Month as The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.

The Black family has been a topic of study in many disciplines—history, literature, the visual arts, and film studies, sociology, anthropology, and social policy. Its representation, identity, and diversity have been reverenced, stereotyped, and vilified from the days of slavery to our own time.

As we continue to explore Black History throughout the African Diaspora, it's crucial to understand and acknowledge the Black Family's role in all its forms in establishing the deep cultural roots that have carried on for thousands of years, and hundreds of generations.  

The Black family continues to be the community's strength. We've seen families rally to support one another during the traumatic times within the Black community, including during the senseless racial violence against Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others over the past year. The Black Family's identity shows that the definition of what family means has always been expansive. The family is where strength, wisdom, love, support, and energy exist. The Black family experienced so much in 2020, and it helped to shine a light on the intersectionality and impact a strong family can have on everyone during tumultuous and unforgettable times.  Throughout the 400+ years of oppression and racial violence, the Black Family was, and remains, a unifying symbol for many within the community. 

As we continue to grow as a country in our understanding of each other, it's vital for each of us, regardless of race, to understand the narratives that we have heard over the years that have negatively portrayed the Black Family. We need to continue to explore and expand our perceptions to help us a create a more accurate depiction of the Black Family, and what it means not only to the members within the African Diaspora, but also to the broader world that has truly benefited from its greatness. Although each of our learning journeys are different, and some may take longer than others, it is important that we recognize the true meaning of Black History, and how it has shaped the world we live in today. February is not only a month where we recognize the years of slavery and mistreatment of Black people, but it is the reminder that Black people, Black history, Black families, and Black culture are worth celebrating today and every day.