During Black History Month and beyond, celebrate positive stories of Black people’s ongoing legacy

I received an email from my fourth grader’s teachers updating parents on some of the topics they’ve been covering in class: World War II and Black History. In the message was a heads-up that students may be coming home with “big questions” about some of the sometimes difficult details they’d discussed. 

My grade school memories fade, but I can say with near certainty that none of the history lessons covered in my elementary education (and beyond) required any kind of warning from my teachers. The history that we covered was diluted to become palatable, white-washed, white-centered, and one-dimensional. 

At the same time, there was little to no celebration of the Black individuals who have shaped American history and propelled us forward. 

Photo by Prince Akachi on Unsplash

The National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) Black History Month Celebration statement puts it this way: “Too often, the mainstream narrative around the Black experience is one of violence, heartbreak, and pain. The importance of understanding our nation’s exploitative history and its impact on modern-day inequities cannot be overstated.”

It goes on,  “However, leaning into collective learning about the contributions of Black thinkers, doers, and visionaries is imperative to creating a world equitable for all. As journalist John Blake and countless others highlight the need for more ‘trauma-free Blackness,’ NICHQ joins the call to highlight and share positive stories and messages about Black people’s ongoing legacy. ” 

Nichelle Clark’s piece  Breastfeeding As An Act Of Resistance For The Black Mother seconds this sentiment.

“Black History Month in the breastfeeding community is normally littered with posts and articles about the dark history of African American Breastfeeding in this country,” Clark writes. “I firmly believe that in order to understand where you are going, you must first understand where you have been. However, Black Mothers in today’s society face a very different dilemma: actually being Black History.”

Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash

And again, Jamarah Amani, LM, executive producer of the documentary Legacy•Power•Voice— a three-part documentary that explores the evolution of Black birthing traditions in America–advises, “You have to look back to go forward.” 

As a white woman with white children educated by white people, in honor of  Black History Month– but of course extending beyond the month of February– I’m looking back on my education (and looking inward) in an effort to evolve my learning and re-learn with my kids.  

We have subscribed to the idea that “If Black children are ‘old enough’ to experience racism then white children are ‘old enough’ to learn about it” as educator Blair Amadeus Imani has said. This is a piece of the critical process of dismantling systemic racism in America.

Thanks to Kimberly Seals Allers’ (KSA) Irth Wind & Fire Facebook episodes, I’ve started digging into the rich history of Black midwifery in my effort to relearn and gain new perspective. 

Black midwifery is part of history that has been hijacked by white men who thought birth should be medicalized and white women who turned it into something “crunchy,” KSA explains.  These influences eventually led to the criminalization of midwives and ultimately influenced low breastfeeding rates and high maternal infant mortality rates in BIPOC.

Photo by Mustafa Omar on Unsplash

Midwifery worked before these forces disturbed the process. Actually, midwifery still works, and KSA shouts out the Black organizations and individuals who are helping families birth safely: 

National Black Midwives Alliance, Southern Birth Justice Network, the Granny Midwives, and community-centered missions and birth centers like those in Detroit and New Jersey for example.     

KSA urges us to honor the systems that have worked for generations, rather than grasping for flimsy and phony solutions. Speak up about midwifery care and to find ways to put time, money and energy into the solutions that we know work, she says in her Irth Wind & Fire episode.

Reflecting on NICHQ’s statement, I realized that Our Milky Way is in part, a collection of “positive stories and messages about Black people’s ongoing legacy.” 

The people we’ve featured– Anihhya Trumbo, Tytina Sanders-Bey, Crystal Lovett, Brittany Isler, Rose Hurd, Kayla Bitten, Evelyn Rhodes, Monica Haywood, Joy R. Gibson, Tangela L. Boyd, Dr. Carolyn Turner, Chanel Porchia-Albert, Dr. Byron Whyte, Tammy Thompson, Ngozi Walker-Tibbs, Acquanda Stanford, Ravae Sinclair, Sering A.L. Sosseh, Charles Clayton Daniels, Jr., Shirley Payne, Patricia Officer, Ashley Albright, and many others–  are the changemakers, the “Black thinkers, doers, and visionaries… creating a world equitable for all.”

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Racial discrimination is morally wrong and often deadly to Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). If that’s not enough to inspire people with privilege to create positive change, Sum of Us Author Heather McGhee draws “on a wealth of economic data… [and] argues that when laws and practices have discriminated against African Americans, whites have also been harmed… thus we all have an interest in fighting…”  [Read more or listen about the cost of racism for everyone here.]

Along with an understanding of our nation’s exploitative history and acknowledgement of the systemic racism embedded in our country, let’s also celebrate that “… Black lives should matter outside of trauma.”

John Blake writes, “Any true racial reckoning should acknowledge all of our humanity — not just when we’re dying.”

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

More resources to consider:

  • The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and Council of International Neonatal Nurses (COINN) are surveying nurses and midwives asking for what they might need to better support breastfeeding. The UNICEF-WHO Global Breastfeeding Collective will incorporate the results into an Advocacy brief that highlights the important role of nurses and midwives in supporting, protecting and promoting breastfeeding. Nursing and midwifery organizations and individual nurses and midwives are encouraged to participate in this survey before the end of February. 
  • Teasers and behind the scenes footage of Legacy•Power•Voice here
  • Celebrate BHM with NICHQ’s Weekly Social Media Themes and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for posts and resources.
  • Tune into KSA’s Irth, Wind and Fire episodes.
  • Get free access to Breastfeeding Medicine research and articles about Black experiences. 

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