As I hang out at southern barbecues and play games with my siblings to celebrate black historical figures, each February reminds me of marches I’ve never had to attend, as well as the speeches and legislation that give me the privilege to vote and go to a college like Temple.
Black History Month allows me to imagine a better future and continue the work my heroes left behind by writing columns and essays that advocate for change.
The African American experience of the past and present has shaped who I am today and who I want to be in the future. This month is an opportunity for me to reflect on the people who paved the way for my generation. Thanks to their sacrifices, my goal is to go beyond my college studies, my career and my passion projects.
Throughout the month, there are two men I think about the most: Muhammad Ali, boxer and social activist, and Fred Hampton, activist, leader and vice-president of the Black Panther Party.
When I was 15, I heard about Ali from a video that featured his first winning streak. His talent and personality captivated me, and his decision not to fight in the Vietnam War showed his true spirit. While some considered him unpatriotic, his refusal to back down when he could have been killed represents the courage I try to live with.
I honor Ali by speaking out against injustice and standing up for what is right, even though others may think it is wrong. Choosing to remain silent does not make injustice go away, it will only make it worse.
I used that courage to stand up for classmates, especially people of color. When I was 17, my classmates called a girl a terrorist by pointing at her hijab. The comments made my stomach turn because I knew what it felt like to be bullied, and I didn’t want anyone to feel that pain.
I stood up and denounced their intolerance because no matter how many people laughed, it was wrong. The rest of the bus disagreed, but because of Ali, fear didn’t shut me up.
Hampton is another black man who inspires me because he used his speeches to bring people together and promote equality.
I heard about Hampton last year when I was 18 when my teacher mentioned it during class. She was baffled that I didn’t know who he was, so I decided to research his work and learn more about his accomplishments. That’s when my respect for him was born and it hasn’t stopped growing ever since.
By the time Hampton was 21, he was providing free meals and establishing health clinics. He also created the Rainbow Coalition, an organization dedicated to improving the economic conditions of black communities across the United States.
It represents the strong work ethic and passion that I try to put into my assignments, my poetry, and my work for The Temple News.
There were times in elementary school when I felt intimidated by my classmates – they only got perfect grades when my grades weren’t as good. Their consistency made me stand out from the crowd, as if I didn’t belong. Each week came with a challenge, and I felt like I was falling behind. I considered dropping out of those classes altogether.
But, when I remembered what Hampton had done, how he had used his work ethic to get so many things done at such a young age, I realized my own potential. I knew I had to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove that I belonged and could go above and beyond.
Black History Month encourages me to reflect on my heroes, and with that comes inspiration to better myself and embody the value they saw in the African American community.
When I hear their stories and remember their purpose, I am inspired to learn from the lessons they left behind and finish what they started. I continue to expose societal issues through journalism and poetry, telling stories that can change the way people think.
While these two heroes are just a small glimpse of those who make Black History Month important, they are the ones I cherish the most. I will always reflect on the work done by these heroes and be inspired by their greatest qualities.