The Implications of Celebration
By: Taylor Rogers ’24
When one thinks of February, many people instantly associate the month with the holiday of Valentine’s Day, a time of love, the color pink, and complaining about whether a groundhog has managed to see his shadow or not. February also happens to be the shortest month of the year, the 28 (sometimes 29) days rapidly flying by as people mentally prepare for spring. Yet, February also contains an extremely significant celebration for people of color, and Black people especially, as Feb. 1 kickstarts Black History Month.
During this month, people rack their brains for any bit of information they know about Black History, referring to a list of the same few people they are convinced are the epitome of Blackness in America: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and George Washington Carver. Many people fall victim to this “allure” of emphasizing Blackness and Black greatness for a singular month of the year, recognizing something that is quickly forgotten the second March hits and people turn to preparations for St. Patricks’s Day celebrations.
Providence College is no exception to this concept, highlighting Black excellence yearly during Black History Month and displaying the importance of key Black people who are not just important to Black history, but are important to American and global history. The PC athletics Instagram has been honoring current and former Black athletes who have attended the college, having these athletes briefly describe what Black history means to them. Students this semester have also been given MLK visions awards, this coinciding with the College’s plan to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation Month and Black History Month as one event, not two separate entities and commemorations. This celebration intends to last all of February, with each convocation event named after Martin Luther King Jr., focusing on his key letters and speeches as well as the great reverend’s life.
This celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. is commendable, yet creates a conflict, as the implication that Martin Luther King Jr. is the only important Black figure in history is problematic. On the PC website, the school has stated that the convocation program is meant to “coincide with Black History Month” and states no other events focused on the other successful Black people in history that have changed not only America, but the entire world. Nowhere on the College’s website is there a mention of Ruby Bridges, the first African American student to integrate the William Frantz elementary school in Louisiana, which ultimately led to the desegregation of schools. There is not a single word about civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her seat to a white woman at the age of 15, nine months before Rosa Parks’ more famous protest and became a plaintiff in the Browder v. Gayle case that ruled segregated bus systems unconstitutional. There is a failure to mention Garrett Morgan, the inventor of a traffic light with a third ‘caution’ signal (the yellow light) to alert drivers they would soon need to stop, preventing both car crashes and casualties since 1923.
Many other Black scientists, politicians, historians, artists, musicians, and activists have positively changed society, forming many cultural and social norms that our society relies on and values today, such as the music students stream on Spotify or the retro style people frequent. The diminishment of these accomplishments is apparent when centering a Black History Month celebration around one significant Black person, as the implication of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s Convocation being the main focus of Black History Month eradicates the other key figures of Black history and American history. Martin Luther King Jr. may be the first person to come to mind when one thinks of Black History Month, but this month is not meant to just celebrate the great reverend and his accomplishments, but aims at celebrating excellence of all Black people, ranging from the athletes dominating in their sports to the scientists diligently coming up with new solutions and inventions that better society.
Combining Martin Luther King Jr’s Convocation at the College and the school’s Black History Month celebrations into one event rather than two separate events lessens the significance of other successful Black people both within and outside of the Providence College community. Black History Month is a time to embrace and uplift the voices of Black people, emphasizing their excellence and accomplishments in all aspects of life. While celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. is extremely significant and commendable, it reflects poorly on the goal of Black History Month, which is to honor and commemorate the accomplishments of all, not just one, versions of Black excellence.