The month of February is designated as Black History Month. This month-long commemoration in the United States and Canada is an opportunity to celebrate Black achievement while also serving as a timely reminder to assess where systematic racism still exists and to highlight the people and organisations working to address it.

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What you should know about Black History Month and how to commemorate it this year are as follows:

What was the origin of Black History Month?

Negro History Week, started in February 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black history,” was the initial version of Black History Month. His group, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, aimed to encourage “people of various ethnic and social backgrounds to explore the Black experience.”

Why is February designated as Black History Month?

Woodson chose February as the month for the week-long commemoration because it falls on the birthdays of both former US President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglass. Both men were instrumental in the abolition of slavery.

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Woodson also recognised that members of the African-American community had previously commemorated the births of Douglass and Lincoln, and he wished to build on such traditions. According to the Association for the Knowledge of African American Life and History (ASAALH), “He was asking the public to extend their study of Black history, not to create a new tradition.”

What happened to make Black History Month a national holiday?

Negro History Week was honoured by mayors across the country by the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil-rights movement and a growing understanding of Black identity. On many college campuses, the event eventually grew into Black History Month.

President Gerald Ford declared February to be Black History Month in 1976. President Ford said in his speech that Americans should “seize the opportunity to commemorate the too-often overlooked accomplishments of Black Americans in every field of effort throughout our history.”

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Every American president has honoured Black History Month and its goal during his term. But it wasn’t until Congress passed “National Black History Month” into law in 1986 that many people in the United States began to pay attention. The law aimed to make all Americans “aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity”.

What is the significance of Black History Month?

Initially, Black History Month was intended to educate school children and young people about the accomplishments of African-Americans and other minorities. Such tales had mostly been forgotten, yet they were an important part of the national story.

It’s now considered as a celebration of those who, by their activism and achievements, have touched not only the country but the entire world. The month-long spotlight in February in the United States is a time for people to engage with Black histories, go beyond discussions of racism and slavery, and celebrate Black leaders and achievements.

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What is the theme for Black History Month this year?

The ASAALH, the organisation formed by Woodson, selects a theme each year. The subject for this year is “Black Health and Wellness,” which recognises not just the history of Black scholars but also “other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, and others) throughout the African Diaspora.”

The month’s event will also look at how the Black population has been underserved by healthcare.

Is Black History Month observed in other countries?

It is observed in February in Canada. It is observed in October in nations like as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland. In 1995, African-Canadian parliamentarian Jean Augustine proposed Black History Month in Canada to raise awareness of Black Canadians’ contributions.

In 1987, the United Kingdom began commemorating Black History Month with a focus on Black American history. Black British history has received increased attention throughout time. It is now dedicated to recognising the achievements of Africans to the country. “Dig deeper, look closer, dream bigger,” says the company’s mission statement in the United Kingdom.

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What is the significance of Black History Month?

The month-long commemoration of Black History Month provides an opportunity for many modern Black millennials to envision what possibilities lay ahead. However, the reasons that propelled Woodson nearly a century ago are more significant than ever for many people.

“There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honouring our struggle and ancestors by remembering.” stated Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian Institution, at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. in 2016.