As my friends can tell you, I am a history buff. In particular, I like examining black history. Understand, black history is a constant for me; not a day goes by where I don’t look into our heritage and celebrate all that we are. However, I always get excited for Black History Month, because it allows me the opportunity to share our history, culture, and art with anyone who’s interested. For better or worse, more people (including Black folks) become far more interested in our history whenever it’s the month of February.
So I decided to do something new last year to honor our heritage. I posted images on Instagram (davidapino) of Black history, folklore, and mythology, with detailed captions beneath. I started off with a split picture of Anansi and Brer Rabbit, two famous trickster figures native to African and Black American folklore, respectively. From then on, I would post other myths such as the Orishas of West African mythology, the Steel Drivin’ Man John Henry, and the Flying Africans of Igbo Landing. I also made posts of obscure historical figures such as Warrior Princess Yennenga, Stagecoach Mary, and Railroad Bill. I had spent the year prior researching these figures and thought it best to share them with the digital world.
Ultimately, due to my low follower count (I ain’t that pretty to look at, y’all), these posts aren’t widespread or trending in any sense on social media. Though I would love for a wider audience, I didn’t do this simply to boost my own standing. Rather, I am simply following in the footsteps of Carter G. Woodson – the Father of Black History – in that I am helping to spread our culture and history for the benefit of ourselves. As Woodson noted in his seminal work, The Mis-Education of the Negro, black people, kids, teens, and adults alike, aren’t always taught the full depth of our history. Growing up, the only figures we really spent time on were revisionist versions of MLK Jr. (a nonviolent man who loved white people and said one speech), Frederick Douglass (without understanding the horror of what he been through), and Nelson Mandela (with a curious absence of our nation’s role in keeping him imprisoned).
Thanks to my mom as well institutions such as the library and the rise of the internet during the 90’s/2000’s, I was able to expand my own studies and learn a lot about my heritage. When I had a diorama project to complete on cowboys in the third grade, my mom made sure that I presented Black cowboys. I covered those toy figures and their faces with brown paint to empathize that one-third of the cowboys settling (and colonizing) the west were Black.
Books were also the key to unlocking the secrets of my culture which were kept hidden from me by the vanguards of my K-8 school – ironically named MLK Jr. Thanks to Belle Cooledge library I absorbed Malcolm X’s autobiography by the time I was in 5th grade, I became exposed to Langston Hughes poetry before I stepped foot in high school, and discovered the true causes of the Civil War (IT WAS SLAVERY YOU NEOCONFEDERATE DINGBATS!) by reading James McPherson’s Battle Cry to Freedom in 8th grade. If it weren’t for the library and an anti-social personality (I was as socially awkward as a boy could be back then), I would not have understood the nuances of our history until much later.
Just recently, I discovered my maternal ancestor Alexandria Price was a member of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. For this reason, I’ll say “Death to Johnny Reb!” when I feel angry towards racists. His own great-grandson, my grandfather, Sam would end up fighting Nazis in North Africa as a Marine pilot. Familial history is just as important and crucial to my work as world and US history.
Of course, I was also fortunate to have two brilliant high school history teachers who didn’t shy away from covering Black history. Whether it was Mr. Ryan in World History, who exposed me to the Mali Empire and Mansa Musa, or Mr. Sullivan who actually went beyond our terrible textbook to cover the institution of slavery and its impact on the US today! Whether it was me presenting the Epic of Sundiata or cosplaying Booker T. Washington (though I’m a Du Bois supporter myself), I was able to explore blackness in a way that I couldn’t before. One cannot adequately describe the amount of privilege I possessed in learning from these two teachers. After all, a lot of students do not receive the opportunity to learn our history in as great of a depth.
And of course, there was Ms. Wanket, a teacher, mentor, and a friend who assigned Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon my senior year. I remember going to college and talking to plenty of Black students who never read the book because it was never assigned in class. These are some real challenges facing all youth today, who need a proper understanding of a vast range of experiences in this multiethnic society of ours. One can read both Shakespeare and Toni Morrison and appreciate their beauty and rawness.
For this year’s sacred month of mine, I will be focusing on Black literature in addition to historical figures, myths, and culture. I intend on doing 1-3 posts per day on literature from authors of all centuries as well as contemporary writers. By using images, I hope to capture someone’s attention and bring their focus on the subject in question. Instagram has a knack for doing just that (although I don’t intend on posting half-naked pics [sorry]).
I also intend on releasing some periodic video posts on the material in question, though I admit my oratory skills are vastly inferior to my writing (the result of a minor speech disorder). Nevertheless, the work is too important for my own pride’s sake.
Furthermore, I would hope that others would spread these posts so that they can reach a wider audience and expose minds, both young and old, to newer worlds that they hadn’t explored before. I’m even open to suggestions for any kind of literature or figures you want me to post [make requests in the comments below].
So happy Black History Month and I hope you all will join me in spreading the knowledge of Black history, culture, and literature!