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Making Black History Month Meaningful, By Jewell Washington

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Making Black History Month Meaningful, By Jewell Washington

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By Jewell Washington of @northknits

I find it no coincidence that the very day I wrote this post is Rosa Parks’ birthday. February 4. Rosa was born in the year 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She passed when she was 92 years old, but not without making an impact on the world that would span generations.


Rosa Parks was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. In her time, she was often called the first lady of civil rights and the mother of the freedom movement. From the time I was a young girl, figuring out the world and my place in it as a shy nerdy third-grader, learning about Rosa always intrigued me. I did not fully comprehend why my teachers wanted me to learn about her or why it was necessary to do so in February. Nevertheless, I always looked to listen. I did not understand everything, but I felt the importance of the knowledge. I knew something about learning from Rosa and what she did in her time was a feeling and education that I would need to remember for later in a time of my own.


When I was in elementary school, learning about Rosa in a book or through a grainy old-school overhead projection screen was the internet and social media of my time. I was enthralled by Rosa’s beauty and strength. What I learned of her in class would stick with me on my own bus rides home. I spent many mornings in front of my house, waiting on the street edge of a South Carolina small town highway, for the bus. I would often get goosebumps and I am still not sure if those were from chilly Carolina mornings or from the anxiety of figuring out exactly where I would sit once the bus pulled up. Or if I would get teased for riding and sticking my nose deep into a Babysitters Club paperback instead of trying to make friends. Or if I would get ostracized for hiding in the seats to do my homework instead of flirting with boys or paying attention to when it was my stop. Riding the bus was a big deal as a kid, and even as I have matured into a woman riding the bus in big city Chicago, experiencing nerves and anxieties for different reasons, I feel constant gratitude. There is a unique and rather inclusive journey and experience that comes with a bus ride. One that many before me were never given the civil right to experience. Rosa was instrumental in changing that.


On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, she rejected a bus driver’s order to vacate a row of four seats in the “colored” section in favor of a white passenger, once the “white” section was filled. Rosa was not the first person to resist bus segregation, but she along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) changed the game. Rosa was arrested for civil disobedience. She helped to get the courts involved. She worked to challenge Alabama segregation laws, and she inspired the black community to boycott the Montgomery buses for over a year.

Essentially, Rosa helped to define history. Black History. And her story, among many enthralling stories before, during, and after her moment, is what makes Black History Month meaningful.


I believe that Rosa most likely experienced fear, anxiety, dread, anger, excitement, triumph, and a myriad of other emotions that could span the length of a bus for what she was trying to do and change. I bet there were times where she might have wanted to quit, on herself and those around her. But she did not back down. She pushed continuously for change. She did not quit. She knew that future generations depended on her emotions and her actions.


I also believe that a lot of people do not know Rosa’s story. They never learned about her as a kid, and maybe lacked the desire or fortitude to learn about her as an adult. It may be easier to hop online or onto social media or to pick up a yarn project and work on a WIP, than it is to stop and learn about the impact of the first lady of civil rights born in the early 1900s.


But now is a time for meaningfulness. Now is a time, no matter how fearful, to strive for fearlessness.

February 2021 is a time where we can work to educate ourselves and grow more courageous. It is an opportunity to learn to drive out hate and by result take in knowledge and love and inclusion and diversity, no matter how bumpy it gets. You may wonder why it even matters. In an unprecedented time of confusion and uncertainty and global pandemic, you may only desire to think of the life within your own walls and your own life, but if the prior year has shown us anything, it is that education on the importance of black lives and why they matter is meaningful in the most life-giving and life-saving ways. Self-awareness and societal awareness kind of go together like yarn and needles these days. The wheels need to keep moving on the strong ideology that black lives and black history matter. Point. Blank. Period.


In the last year, I have shared my story and experience as a young black woman having to learn resilience against micro-aggression, feelings of segregation and racism many times. I have shared my start as a first-generation college student, first-generation grad student, becoming the founder of an amazing and diverse organization for creatives, the joy I get from knitting and crocheting, the connections with wonderful fellow makers that listen, support, and push me to just be and become me, with all the cozy yarn through and through. But I have not always shared how Rosa’s story is one of the most impactful ways that keep me creating the pages of my own story. But here it is. This is just one of the many stories that I have learned and keep learning, particularly during black history month, that consistently and continuously remind me that my moment in time matters — and that years and decades from now, generations of other young black women will see me through high res, not grainy, photos and hopefully become inspired too.


I challenge us to carry the spirit of Rosa Parks and Black History Month in our hearts. To learn something in these next few weeks, specifically related to BHM. I hope that we desire to live in Rosa’s truth and in the truth of so many like her. I am dreaming that we continue to make history meaningful and to fight for the justice around it. I aspire for us to remember that black is beautiful and profound. I look to us for the spirit of history, culture, freedom, and legacy to live on.


Because Black History, and the work to get here, is a bus ride and so much more.

Making Black History Month Meaningful
By Jewell Washington
@northknits

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1 Comment

  • A very good article!

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