Black History Month speaker challenges school to take broader look at social issues

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comMarch 3, 2013 

— Dr. Adolphus Belk Jr. gets the question sometimes as to whether there’s still a need for Black History Month. There is, he contends, because the full story hasn’t yet been told.

“We’ve seen a tremendous degree of progress,” said the Winthrop University professor and Fort Mill resident. “We see that there’s still work to be done.”

Belk addressed students Feb. 26 at Nation Ford High School, but he also put the burden on educators to help young people engage issues like discrimination, race as it relates to economics, political involvement and a fuller historical context for the fight for equality. Black History Month was observed is observed in February.

“Why do we still need Black History Month? Because people still don’t get it,” he said.

A cursory understanding of the roles played by African Americans in this country’s history isn’t enough, Belk said. There can be a perception that the story begins with enslavement, continues uneventfully until Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, stalls until Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and ends with Barack Obama.

All of which, Belk said, are false.

Particularly the early history needs more discussion, he said. Partly because “no people begin their story in chains,” and partly for the way it’s told with African Americans as the recipients of social change.

“It suggests that things are being done to African Americans and for African Americans, but not by African Americans,” Belk said.

While both ends of the social extreme always seem to exist, Belk believes young people now are showing more tolerance and social concern. They’re less ideological and more practical than past generations, he said. Belk spoke to students Tuesday about the roles of women and children in pursuing social equality, but also current issues like the way college applications are viewed and how race impacts jobs.

Something that hasn’t changed in the long history of African American life is that, if people want change, they’re going to have to work for it, Belk said.

“If we’re going to make this real, we have to do something,” he said. “We have to start with ourselves.”

This year’s national theme of “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington” aims to put 2013 in historical context.

Student Joy Quick described at last week’s assembly a number of milestones, from the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln’s famed order to the 50th anniversary of the Washington, D.C., march for job equality and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Already this year, Obama’s inauguration and critical acclaim for last year’s film, “Lincoln,” highlighted prominent figures in social change, she said.

Nation Ford Principal Beverly Bowman said she’d be proud of the world that the majority of students at her school will create. One she’d be happy to have her young children grow up in as she tries to teach them what her parents taught her.

“You treat people the way you want to be treated,” she said.

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