Black History Month offers all Americans the opportunity to celebrate the contributions and achievements of African Americans in all aspects of life: politics and history, art and culture, science and medicine and so much more. Each February, each of us can pause to appreciate – and learn from – the myriad ways that African Americans have shaped the America we know today.
Yes, Black History Month is about the past, but it must also be about our present, as well as the future we hope to forge, together, as Americans. “You can’t really know where you are going,” poet Maya Angelou reminds us, “until you know where you have been.”
Examining our history isn’t just some esoteric exercise. Indeed, in recent months we have seen that for too many Americans, taking an honest look at our history – particularly African American history and our struggle with racism – is seen as troubling or controversial. But there is no escaping the truth of our history. Like Shakespeare, we know that “what is past is prologue” for what is to come. Our steps yesterday took us to where we are today, and each step we take today determines our path for tomorrow.
Throughout our shared history, brave African Americans have dared to dream that another way is possible. Another way that is more just, more equal, more life-giving and more like the Kingdom that God calls each of us to build. If we’re honest, America often has not wanted to seek that other way. We are too proud, too comfortable, too blind, too timid.
Yet God continually calls us forward to something better than our present. We can use Black History Month as a chance to start anew, to try a different path. And that starts by taking a look around at where we find ourselves here in 2022.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has chosen Black Health and Wellness as a theme for 2022. It’s a way to celebrate all the ways African Americans have touched our bodies and souls, whether as essential workers, front-line health providers or in small ways to promote wellness. The racial and economic disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic must prompt us to ask what we are doing to promote and protect Black Health and Wellness. Sadly, not enough, but we can follow the guidance of those who, throughout history, have challenged us to imagine something different, something better.
The hymnist pushes us to remember that “whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” During this Black History Month, let us remember all the ways that African Americans have contributed to the soul of America. And may each of us, in our own way, do what we can to lift up the bodies and souls of our African American brothers and sisters – not just today, but every day.
The Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin, Sr.
Canon Missioner and Minister of Equity and Inclusion