Today marks the beginning of Black History Month. A time set aside to remember, honor and celebrate the history, accomplishments, leadership, and lives of Black Americans. I received an email indicating that my own little piece of history memorabilia was delivered to my home a few hours ago...it is my new Bessie Coleman Barbie Doll. In honor of Ms. Coleman's birthdate, January 26, 1892, Mattel released its latest Inspiring Barbie in her likeness. Ms. Coleman was the first African-American woman and first Native American to hold a pilot license, and the first Black person to hold an international pilot license.
There are, of course, many others we could call by name for their great contributions to Black and American history...Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Carter G. Woodson, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King Jr., and first Black woman and man medical doctors, Rebecca Lee Crumpler MD,and James McCune Smith MD, to name a few. Today, our living history makers include President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Kizzmekia Corbett PhD, and Philly's own Ala Stanford MD. We are grateful for every path blazed, personal and collective sacrifice, the strength and perseverance to overcome challenges and oppression, and the fortitude that keeps us on the journey to justice. Because of them, we are.
In considering Black History in today's lens, the events of the past few weeks are constant reminders that racism and systemic oppression are ever present. Ironically, on the first day of Black history month, a family and nation mourned the death of Mr. Tyre Nichols at his funeral service. Most of us are aware that Mr. Nichols was brutally beaten by five Black police officers in Memphis, TN on January 9th, leading to his death three days later. While I have not watched the video of this heinous incident, and not sure that I ever will, some have and are utterly dismayed that a human being would be subjected to this behavior. And in the midst of a nation asking, "How could this happen again?" It did. Last Thursday, Mr. Anthony Lowe, a double amputee, was shot and killed by Los Angeles County's Huntington Park police officers. So, many are feeling the pain of these situations...pain due to loss of life, and pain due to the ever-present injustice and racism embedded in our systems. This has become our norm...it should not be...so we need to create a new normal.
Systemic oppression is alive and well, as it continues to impede on those historically marginalized and vulnerable. Those who are socially conscious have been speaking up, speaking out, and protesting. We are not okay! We have cried, organized, agonized, and petitioned. This cannot continue and we cannot afford to remain silent. We must continue to peacefully protest, demand justice, help to change laws, and vote. Congress must meet this moment by passing comprehensive federal legislation that addresses the scourge of police violence. We have the power to change our history — Black and American —and we must! This current state of affairs should not be our story.
Needing my history to have a new lens,
Special Assistant to the President for DEI