|Sojourner Truth Monument tells the story|
Each year when it rolls around, schools, corporations and media dust off familiar images, events, facts and figures. The “first African American” to do this or is a familiar refrain. In many ways that’s a good thing. Also shared are certain iconic moments, many of which were earthshaking.
Throughout history African Americans played roles that led to the United States emerging as arguably the world’s most important nation in the 20th Century. And not just as individuals; black folks also did it collectively, as a people.
Our physical labor, creative artistry, cultural innovation – it all added (and continues to add) tremendous value. The trouble is we tend to see, read and hear about the same triumphs and “firsts.” As a result, it feels more and more like Black History Month is being held in less and less regard.
What’s missing is the vitality of Black History Month and how it fits in with the contributions African Americans are making today. For example, take Bobby Holley. His work as a community activist brings attention to issues like homelessness, violence and bullying.
|Bobby Holley: true American patriot|
It’s important to note that the things he works on aren’t just “black issues”; they are matters that affect the entire community. Over the years, Holley has taken to the streets of Battle Creek (and sometimes beyond) to raise awareness of critical social concerns.
Just recently, Holley spent the night outside on the corner of North Avenue and Roosevelt Street. Weather conditions were dangerously cold. Yet Holley stayed out there as part of a homeless awareness campaign. The purpose was to encourage the community to think about those who are homeless.
A lot of people write a check as a form of “giving.” Holley’s currency is his body. Much of his activism involves personal physical discomfort and intentional sacrifice. It also admittedly consists of a measure of theatrics – no doubt employed in an often symbolic effort to garner attention from a world pressed with other important things, like work and family.
On the surface, Holley’s work as an activist seems to fall squarely under the general category of “Battle Creek history”, and on many levels it does. But it also relates to black history. Why the double dipping?
|Harriet Tubman on Internalized Racial Oppression|
Black History Month is an attempt to remedy the systematic withholding of vital and relevant historic contributions of black people in this country. Too many people of all colors seek to minimize Bobby Holley. That is, render invisible the relevance of what he is doing and what he’s achieved.
By focusing too much on the manner and methods in which he conducts his social justice issues, so many of us miss the beautiful inner meaning of his way of being.
Holley needs to be remembered. Not because he’s an African American working to make our community better, but because he’s one of many African Americans working to make our community better.
|Bobby Holley: NOT a caricature. An enigma.|
And no, he’s not the first and only. That a person, black or otherwise, was the first to do or be a thing can be significant. But let’s not allow a personal milestone be the most important thing written on their tombstone. Rather, it is the meaning of that milestone that is important. How did it change us all for the better? That is where the relevance is.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.