It was the first week of February and, like most typical weekday mornings, I was rushing to get my girls to school. As I dropped off , my youngest daughter, the director of her day care pulled me aside to find out whether I was planning to get her African heritage portrait taken. They were setting up now, she said, and I hadn’t filled out a form.
I honestly planned on opting out. But with this conscious or subconscious nudge, I said yes. I don’t know why I was thinking about skipping the heritage picture, being Black History Month and all. But as I thought about it, I’d always been a little skeptical about the holiday.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe there should be a time to celebrate African American heritage, but I prefer not to get caught up in the logistics of it being designated to a particular month. And the fact that I always hear the same focal points of our history during this time had been a turn off.
A few days later, however, one of the teachers at the day care approached me about painting the backdrop for the African American History program. She offered to help me paint it as she handed me a picture of a William H. Johnson painting of Harlem during the Renaissance. I said yes but told her I could handle it by myself, thinking his style is pretty loose and that it wouldn’t take me long to paint.
Then the next week a parent approached me at my oldest daughter’s school. She let me know that she would be doing a presentation to her son’s Kindergarten class on the Tuskegee Airman and Bessie Coleman (the first black female pilot). She encouraged me to do something in for my oldest daughter’s first-grade class. I thought about it and then e-mailed the teacher, asking whether I could do an art project on Romare Bearden. The teacher was ecstatic, so much so that she asked if I would be willing to do the project with the other first-grade class, too.
“Yes, of course!” I replied.
Then I began to feel the pressure of all my commitments. I was cursing myself out and Black History Month! The weekend before both school events, I began painting the 14 by 7 foot backdrop and preparing for the Bearden project, which meant clipping hundreds of hands, noses, and mouths out of magazines for 40 or so children. Luckily my father was in town to help and a few moms (thanks) saw me fluttering and also volunteered to give me a hand.
In the end, the Bearden project was a hit. My daughter’s classmates learned about an amazing artist and even made their own rendition of a Bearden masterpiece.
Next, I went with my husband to a really cute preschool program on the Harlem Renaissance, where I saw my youngest, with a large red flower in her hair, sing a Billie Holiday solo.
Most importantly, I really enjoyed Black History Month this year. I am so grateful to that wise parent at Skye’s school who asked me, “If we don’t celebrate black history, then who will?” And though I may need to say no a little more often. I will always say yes to Black History Month.