Post Obama, Black History Month takes on a greater significance

"Black is in now, black is in vogue and that hasn’t happened since the 1960s when there was enormous interest in African history. I am hopeful that Obama’s presence will flow over, particularly to young people, and that they will take pride in their magnificent history," said historian Kwaku Person-Lynn, who teaches a course in Afrikan World Civilizations at Kaos Network, a cultural center in Leimert Park.

What started as "Negro Week" in the late 1920s became Black History Month in the 1970s, and included lectures, exhibitions, banquets, cultural events and television and radio programs celebrating the achievements of African-Americans. February was chosen because it marks the birthdays of two of the most important people who shaped the future of blacks in America–Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

This year, there is even more cause for celebration. Besides Obama holding the highest office in the country, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States, is celebrating its centennial year.

"It’s unfortunate, but I think we’ve lost interest in our history and that’s due to parents not making an effort. I am very disappointed in the youth these days–wearing sagging pants, showing underwear–it’s foolishness, for which I give no credence whatsoever," said Jabari Jamani, founder of the AFIBA cultural center in Crenshaw.

He sees Obama’s election as a very positive and timely act and said it was high time that white Americans saw someone other than a white man or woman in a seat of leadership. "It’s been proven now that we can accept something other than an image of white male domination and I think that’s good for the youth," he said. Can a child be in a seat of leadership?

Like some people who have protested through the years, both Lynn and Jamani are against the idea of having a particular month dedicated to black history. "This month, the enthusiasm will be up for sure, but it remains to be seen whether or not it is genuine. I’m not sure yet whether this (Obama) will be a springboard for renewed interest in black history and culture," said Jamani, adding that cultural events for the community should be held through the year, regardless of the flavor of the season.

Teachers at the Crenshaw High School are doing just that. Post Inauguration Day, they have tailored lesson plans to include more discussions on black history. "Obama has spurred a deep interest in black historical figures and black freedom struggles. He has inspired a surge among our students in knowing about current issues in the black community," said Alex Caputo-Pearl, lead teacher of the Social Justice and Law Academy at the school.

Crenshaw, populated by a majority of African Americans, is an important place to generate enthusiasm in black history and culture, said Jamani. "The Korean community on Olympic Boulevard is a fraction of the black community in Crenshaw, yet they have displayed signs in their language everywhere. Even though the rest of the world can’t read their language, they are not afraid to express themselves. Crenshaw Boulevard should be like that for Afro Americans," he said.

Starting this week, like all the years before, Los Angeles will feature dances, films and poetry readings. One of the biggest events to look out for is the Pan African Film and Arts Festival, beginning later this week. And then there are organizations like the Kaos Network, a community arts center in Leimert Park that celebrate Black History Month all through the year.

But this year, most people agree that the dancers will leap a little higher, the music will linger a little longer and the lectures will be a little more passionate.

Speak Your Mind