Black Is Beautiful: Alumni Share Perspectives On The Meaning Of Black History Month
The first of February marks the beginning of Black History Month.
Although it is the shortest month of the year, each of the 28 days is carried with pride by the African American community.
“Although it’s not celebrated throughout the entire year, I appreciate the month as a whole. Recognizing us as a culture,” Rhandi Ryan, a 2005 O-Trip alum, said.
Originating in the 1970s, Black History Month allows the people to recognize the Black community “for what we’ve accomplished.”
“Black History Month means shedding more light, and giving people more information on things of Black history,” O-Trip alum, William Davis, said. “Black history is not really taught in schools anymore, so people that are growing up in this kinda race-driven political world we live in at the moment.”
Generation after generation, the culture continues to grow and surpass any problems thrown in its way.
Recent historical movements in the Black community, including the very public nature of wrongful deaths of African Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, have sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although issues like this have occurred multiple times throughout recent history, such as the Rodney King moment in the early 1990s.
Davis remembers that time well.
“The beating, then the verdict of the beating. And then the riots that soon followed were just a big historic moment in my life,” he said.
Through the tough times in the community, many have taken their own stance of support.
Ryan said she has “marched and gone to several parades” throughout her life.
“We’ve stood there and stood the grounds to support during Black Lives Matter,” she said.
One event that personally impacted Ryan was the death of Trayvon Martin, considering she is the mother of a young black male. She would have “fear and worry” for him “when he would leave the house.”
For Davis, he sees BLM’s stamp on society.
“Now there’s an open dialogue with everyone so we can have some discussions about why we still feel the way we feel based on our history,” he said.
As he takes his stance, he educates the people who say inappropriate or “derogatory towards black people.” Along with that, he plays a supportive role when it comes to interacting with other races. He believes, by being open to dialogue, it sets a positive example for other diverse groups.
“It starts with the racism barrier, because that’s how we got to this level of hate. It’s skin,” he said.
Although there are some negative moments, these moments will remain significant to history. Even today, history continues to be made.
Davis recognizes the success in athleticism. Such as “Carl Lewis and his Olympic glory” as well as NBA legends, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Although for Ryan, she admires the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“Coming from slavery, to the growth and the recognition…never imagined…a president, and not only one term, but for two terms. It means a lot, very very impactful,” she said.
The success of African Americans continues to grow today across multiple industries. From black-owned businesses, to music and sports.
Even though traditions may differ between households, melanated people have adapted their own special culture within daily living. Whether it’s speaking in slang or having an influential style, Black has always identified its own beauty. So much that it has inspired other cultures to mimic these qualities.
Ryan’s favorite part about Black culture is the influence it carries within “sports, the music”, even “the way we style our hair.”
Along with that, she mentions how bomb the cooking is.
“Cook it with love, and lots of seasoning,” she says.
Davis’s favorite part surrounds the spirit of Black people. He loves how his culture is “compassionate and loving and forgiving beings on this earth.”
There are many aspects of Black culture.
It may not be fully understood through the eyes of another group, but for African Americans, “it’s always love.”
There are many powerful African Americans that have existed throughout history, even in today’s world. Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X have paved the pathway for this community to allow them to earn their rights as citizens in the United States.
Both Ryan and Davis are inspired by Dr. King and his role in the Civil Rights Movement.
“[W]e had the opportunity to go to Memphis, where we stood in the hotel room [Lorraine Motel] from where he was at and where he held his speech,” Ryan said.
In Davis’s point of view, his inspiration comes from his heritage. His mother grew up as a young child during the Civil Rights Movement.
“Martin Luther King for me, just because my mother was raised watching him, and I was raised learning about him…it was nice to learn that piece of history in school after hearing it from people that live it, you know?” he said.
The results of the Civil Rights Movement have allowed Black people to enjoy an averagely equal and integrated American society.
The voices within the community are now louder than ever and are definitely letting their presence be known.
Today’s generation consists of many leaders in different fields.
Ryan personally looks up to Judge Faith Jenkins because of her mannerisms. She likes to watch her on TV.
“I take heed, on the way she speaks and the way she conducts herself. She gains a lot of respect just from the way she carries herself,” she said.
When it comes to Davis, he seeks more inspiration from figures like Snoop Dogg and Shaquille O’Neal because of their versatility in the industry.
“They do good things in their community, and they’re just entertaining. It’s good for everybody to see that level of blackness still striving and still popular,” he said.
No matter when or where you look, there will be successful Black people in many industries.
In today’s society, the leaders of the African American community have “some big shoes to fill.”
Success comes in many forms, and black ancestors from earlier generations have achieved a lot to help them earn their freedom and provide the future community with a fair life.
“It’s always good to see a brotha, or sista, find their way to fame, and take people with them. It’s a blessing,” Davis said.
It’s known through the grapevine that OCCC had a Black student union back in the day, although there isn’t much of a presence today.
Ryan couldn’t recall there being a union, but she supports the idea of having one today, along with any events that come with it.
For Davis, he recalls there being a union, but he states, “I’m not even sure if it was a club at the school.” He also agrees that “it’s good for any college to have a Black student union” and not necessarily keeping them within HBCUs.
When it comes to Black history, even though it is not cherished all year, it’s also not taught like normal history.
It’s treated more like a segment than it’s own thing. Either way, the beauty of blackness will remain present.
Black history continues to be made.
[Editor’s note: Contributor Khi Davis is the son of Rhandi Ryan and William Davis.]