What My Son Needs to Know About Black History Month

childrenLately, my husband and I have been discussing how different Black History Month feels now that we are adults. It was certainly quite a big deal for my family 30 years ago. There were school assemblies, special TV programming, celebrations at churches and synagogues. Each year, my mother and I went to a dinner held by our town's Black-Jewish coalition. But now that we have a black president, many people are shrugging their shoulders as if to say, "What's the point?" I think it's an especially common reaction among young people -- both white and black. In their minds, the Civil Rights Movement and everything that it stood for are ancient history.

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To that point, my son will grow up with a reality I never imagined as a little kid: a black First Family in the White House, black NFL quarterbacks, a black queen of all media. But do those achievements negate the fact that black people are still behind in so many ways?

Black History Month celebrates all of our accomplishments, but it also needs to be a reminder of those who have not been able to move forward, to achieve. Some have had jaw-dropping success, but millions more still suffer with a lack of opportunity. So many children -- and not just black -- live in neighborhoods where walking to school can be a deadly exercise. And then there are the schools themselves. The educational system in this country is just shameful in our poorest communities. 

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I want my son to know that the struggle for Civil Rights wasn't and isn't just a black and white issue. It's a fight for giving every child a fair chance in this life, regardless of color. That sounds over-the-top altruistic, I know. But it's the truth. When I see a child that has had an unimaginably tough life already by the age of 5, my heart breaks. Why is it some are born into such privilege and possibility and so many more are not?

The question for us and for my son's generation is how do we level the playing field for these kids. How do we give them a chance, just a chance at a decent life? Though that's not the only issue at play: housing and job discrimination and hate crimes are still big problems. We need to protect people of color (of all ethnicities) and gay men and women.

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So, I want my son to know that as far as we've come, there is still a lot further to go. My goal isn't to scare him. But he needs to know that Black History Month is more than just quotes and platitudes from the past. It may no longer be about drinking fountains, bus seats, or school integration, but another struggle still continues for far too many. He needs to know that and feel a responsibility to help.

Image via RubyDW/Flickr

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