With Black History Month winding down, Black Valley Streamers reflected on the significance of Black culture in America and their own experiences with racism.
Trisha Brown, 43, said that in the past she has been told, “We didn’t expect you to be very eloquent in speech,” or that she sounded white, a common racist micro-aggression against Black people.
“When white people have assumed that I’m trying to be white just because I use proper grammar, it was racist, because what does that say about the way all Black people speak?” Brown said. “Even with my past traumatic experiences with racism, I move about freely and comfortably as a Black person in society because Black people have been a source of great creativity and ingenuity throughout American history, and there is a richness and authenticity to Black culture that I am proud of.”
Brown said she was proud to celebrate Black History Month because she can reflect on her great-great-grandfather, who brought himself out of slavery, and recount stories she has been told about her great-grandmother, who attended college to earn her master’s degree in the 1930s.
“It was impressive that they achieved that, and this motivates me to know that if they pushed that hard for achievements during a time when it was harder to achieve, I can too,” she said. “I’ve never questioned my beauty, because my grandparents and parents taught me to be proud to stand out, and I have always loved my beautiful tan and brown glow.”
Brown said, however, that celebrations of Black history shouldn’t be confined to one month.
“On the one hand, I think it’s a moment to highlight the many contributions that Black people have afforded our country; however, It brings to mind that for the 11 other months, Black people, who make up a great fabric of the history of America, are considered an ‘other,’” she said. “And oftentimes, television will depict the Black experience as one that is met with merely trauma, but Black History Month reminds us that trauma is not the bulk of every Black person’s life experiences. As a Black person, for every traumatic experience with racism that I’ve had, I’ve gone through many more positive moments that make me proud to be me.”
Qumyka Howell, 43, also said she has always been proud to be Black. Her father and mother took pride in their Blackness, Howell said, and she intends to pass that on to her own sons.
“I try to exemplify greatness, and it’s great to know that I come from a group of people that have always strived for excellence,” she said. “My Blackness can’t be defined in one word, because it’s multifaceted. Being Black is something that I live and breathe, and it is my identity.”
Although Howell declined to share specific instances of racism that her family has faced, she did acknowledge that sometimes her children are treated differently at school for what she believes is the color of their skin, but strives to motivate them.
For the past eight months, she has overseen the Valley Stream Community Book Club, which, while open to anyone in the community, is intended to explore literature from a diversity of authors.
“Oftentimes me and my boys will watch Black motivational speakers talking about their power and influence because it helps them to understand that they can achieve great things too,” she said. “When you use inspiring Black literature, it can motivate your children and other Black people by giving them a sense of pride and hope that this is what people that look like them were able to accomplish.”
Valley Streamers Dr. Christan Akaeze, 54, and his wife, Dr. Nana Akaeze, 45, said they both experienced racism in the hiring process as educators, but were both eventually able to find jobs as professors at the University of the People, an online college based in California. They both said that this month gives them a chance to reflect on the achievements of many Black activists who helped promote equity.
“Black History Month is a time to pay tribute to Black people before us who struggled with discrimination, and to be thankful that as Black people we now have the freedom to vote and to be voted into position because of those people who fought for our rights,” Christian said. “Racism, for me, has been louder and more blaring in the last five years, and this is why every day should be a celebration for Black people.”
“Everything about being Black is beautiful,” Nana said. “We are tough. I am proud to be a Black woman. There are things that are harder for us than other non-marginalized groups, but we have shown over the years that we can withstand anything and come out stronger and resilient.”