By Charles Hallman
Is Black History Month still relevant? A mix of Black folk from the “young, and young at heart” assembled at Sirius XM’s Washington, D.C. headquarters and discussed this topic early February.
USA Today columnist Dewayne Wickham, Association for the Study of African American Life Executive Director Sylvia Cyrus and social commentator Jeff Johnson were featured panelists on “Banneker, Barack and Beyond: The Meaning of Black History,” moderated by Sirius XM weekday morning host Joe Madison February 6.
Sirius XM Urban Programming Vice President Dion Summers helped organized the event.
“The question that we put out there — does Black History Month matter anymore — was aimed more at the group we call the ‘millennials’ (ages 18-34),” explained Summers in a phone interview with the MSR. “There always has been a certain understanding of Black History Month. I will be 40 this year, and my generation [knows] Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, and Harriet Tubman and the Emancipation Proclamation — the flash card Black History Month facts.
“Now here we are in 2014 with a Black president, and many of the issues that African Americans faced historically… to an extent have changed. The state of race relations to an extent has changed. The amount of open-mindedness among all different nationalities and races has changed to an extent. You got the election and reelection of Barack Obama on one end, and you have the Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin situations bubbled up and brought back race on the forefront.
“Where does Black History Month fit in? What does it mean [today]?” asked Summers. “All we wanted was a discourse on how things are now. The overwhelming consensus from our event was that Black History Month is very much relevant, but the way that it is taught has to evolve and change. The instruction has to be updated. We also talked about creating Black history at the event.
“Now it’s about who’s making history now,” said Summers. “Let’s look to Serena Williams. Let’s look to those politicians and newsmakers that are making a difference, who are putting themselves and their names on the line to improve race relations — who are at the forefront. There is very much a need [to acknowledge] Black history, particularly for young African American men and women to get a sense of foundation… there always is a connection between who we are and where we are.”
When asked who is to blame for this seemingly disinterest in Black history, “I wouldn’t put the burden on the baby boomers,” responded Summers. “[For] the Black baby boomers — it was all about creating stability in the family… I believe the priorities were different then.
“I’m blessed to be where I am and with my career. That’s the foundation that my parents solely laid down. Yeah, they could have done a better job [stressing Black history to him], but you know what — the parents of today could have done a better job. I don’t think we should [lay the] blame solely on our parents’ lap.”
Still Summers is not ready to admit that Black History Month is no longer needed.
He noted, “I think it is incumbent on the current generation to seek this information out, and find out where they came from and not take it for granted that they were born into this colorblind society and this Black president… We live in a time of unprecedented information accessibility. We don’t have blinders on anymore — information is so instant and we all [can] get it. It’s an oatmeal kind of world we live in.”
Summers strongly advised, “We never can forget. We need to preserve the specialness of Black people. We have to be at the forefront of remembering our place and how we built this country, not just physically but also culturally. We established the backbone of pop culture… we have to remember we have a cultural imprint on this country and not take that for granted.
“We have to remember those who laid that foundation for us — we have to cherish and nurture our legends, whether it’s Harriet Tubman or Michael Jackson,” concluded Summers. “Never, ever forget.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman @ spokesman-recorder.com