Written by Victoria Stafford, Features Editor
In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History dubbed the second week of February to be “Negro History Week,” chosen to purposely encompass the birthdays of the slave liberator President Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and passionate slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass (February 14). Initially, the conception of this week was far from generally accepted. However, Woodson deemed this to be “one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association,” believing that dedicating time for the remembrance of Black history was absolutely crucial for preservation of Black traditions and culture. Later, in 1969, the Black United Students of Kent State University first proposed the expansion of “Negro History Week” to “Black History Month,” celebrating the new extension just a year later at the university. This celebration was officially recognized by the United States federal government in 1976 under the administration of President Gerald Ford, who concluded that the observance of Black History Month would provide the nation a pristine opportunity to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
There has been substantial debate about Black History Month and its celebration. Those in favor of Black History Month often believe that the commemoration of black history provides the chance for the general public to contemplate and become aware of African-American history and how those events remain significant today. Others argue that the existence of a Black History Month only otherizes Black history, ensuring that the bulk of mainstream history education remains white-washed. Thoughtfully candid writer Trudy Bourgeois argues for Black history to become fully integrated into standardized education and reflected upon every day, “not just during one month of the year, and not just as a sidebar feature in a textbook.”
Regardless of where one stands in these debates, Black History Month has brought much-needed attention to the concepts of race and identity, prompting serious discussions in public forums, including Logan High. This month, Logan High junior Shayla Tyler has expressed her gratitude for Black History Month, regarding it to be a time for her to continuously discover more about her background and share her heritage with others.
“I feel like it is the only time of the year that people will actually take time to appreciate African-American history and maybe learn a little more about it,” Tyler said. “I know that in February, every so often on any of my social media accounts, some story on African-American history will pop up on my feed. It makes me happy to find out more information that I may not have known about my history and that others are taking a moment to share this for others to read and learn more about as well.”
But for the Tyler family, Black history is remembered and celebrated in more than just the month of February; they are actively involved in activities regarding Black empowerment and pride. During her freshman year, Shayla performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (more commonly known as the Black National Anthem) alongside sisters and Logan High alumni Tanesha and Ebony Tyler in the Diversity Assembly. Additionally, with both Tanesha and Ebony attending Westminster College, the Tyler family has recently started attending Westminster’s annual Martin Luther King Day activist rally. Additionally, Tanesha regularly speaks about race in her spoken word poetry. Shayla has cited both of her sisters as role models.
“Both of them have done a lot of work with trying to make a change in the world dealing with the equality for African-Americans and other minority groups,” Tyler said.
Tyler also considers herself as a big supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, founded in the midst of unfortunate events involving police brutality.
“We should all be paying attention to [the Black Lives Matter movement] and all that is happening dealing with these acts of police brutality,” Tyler said. “I actually just read about another act of police brutality happening in Salt Lake City. Having this happen in our very state, I think this really puts into perspective about how this is a real and unfortunately very common occurrence. I don’t know about everyone else, but I know that I am sick and tired of hearing about yet another innocent black person being killed by police, having to have their name added to a very long, still growing list of victims.”
Black History Month has often called the black identity into examination. For Tyler, this self-reflection is unique; though Tyler has taken every opportunity to embrace herself, her identity has frequently inhabited a state of turbulence as a half-white and half-black individual. Confronted by this, Tyler has learned to maintain a delicate balance in regards to her identity.
“I feel at times that, depending on the crowd I am with, I have to act in the way said crowd would probably expect me to act,” Tyler admitted. “Some expect me to be ‘more white’ while others probably expect me to act ‘more black.’ To quote a line of a poem that my sister wrote entitled Colorblind: ‘One person, two racial identities, I was only ever encouraged to celebrate half of me at a time while the other half lies dormant.’”
Events like Black History Month aim to bring acknowledgement and conversations about race to the forefront. During this time, as it is any time, it is important to recognize that race remains a major factor on both societal and individual levels.
“My race has most definitely influenced me,” Tyler proudly stated. “Race is an important part of my identity. It is apart of who I am."