(Photo Credit: Stefanina via Adobe Stock)

As we reflect and celebrate Black History Month, I would like to share with you the thoughts of a young person of color from within our congregation — in their own words. They said:

Black History Month is the time of year when we are given the opportunity to celebrate and learn about black history and culture. Given the challenges that our nation has faced in 2020, I think this year Black History Month might feel and look a bit differently. Between the recent political protests that cause division between political parties and the COVID-19 pandemic, some people might feel that they are unable to participate in celebrating Black History Month in 2021.

This year we have also seen a huge rise in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. The support from people of all races, genders and sexual orientations has been truly outstanding. I had the opportunity to partake in a BLM event that took place in Downtown Raleigh. Not only was I proud to be at this event with other church members representing St. John’s MCC Raleigh, but I was also proud to see how our community came together to conduct a peaceful protest demanding a change in police brutality that has unnecessarily taken the lives of People of Color in our community and across our nation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted many different celebrations around the world. With social distancing, curfews and fear of the virus, many people are likely to feel that it is unsafe to celebrate Black History Month as they have in the past. But I challenge everyone to ask themselves this… How can you celebrate this month that honors Black people who fought for civil liberties of all kinds, without having to step outside of your comfort zone?

One way that we can celebrate Black History Month is to submerse yourself into Black history! Take a moment to learn about the various milestones that our nation has achieved towards racial equality. From 1780, when Massachusetts granted Black people the right to vote, to 2008, when Americans elected their first-ever Black president, Barack Obama. Even today we continue to break down racial and gender barriers. We can see more racial and gender equality in our present-day in 2021, when the first woman and Black/South Asian-American, Kamala Harris, now serves in the second-highest seat of our nation as vice president. While these moments in Black History can be seen as remarkable, we must ask ourselves, why did it take 241 years from the time Black people were given a right to vote, to having people of color sit in prominent positions within our government?

I personally feel that education or the lack thereof can be to blame. People are not born with bias and racist ideals. These are learned thoughts and behaviors that influence us at a young age when we are most impressionable to those around us. Taking the initiative to learn and understand cultures outside of our own will allow people to learn compassion and understand that, despite race and gender, we are all humans. Humans that deserve the same rights and chances to succeed in this world. So, even though you feel that you cannot celebrate Black History Month as you have in the past, think of other ways you can get involved. Share your stories and experiences. Learn! Chances are someone is listening. Perhaps what you have to say is exactly what someone needs to hear.

Rev. Vance Haywood is senior pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, N.C.

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