Black History Month 2024
Black History Month begins on February 1 every year and is a nationally and federally recognized observance that occurs every February. Many nonprofits, federal organizations, museums, college campuses, and community groups offer specific events, educational opportunities, special assemblies, and more to honor this month each year.
One often highlighted area of focus for Black History Month in more recent years is mental health for Black communities. This may include awareness of the history of common mental health challenges due to the lived experiences of being a person of color in the United States, as well as disparities in the availability and quality of mental health care. Learning how you can care for your own mental health or be an ally in this way during Black History Month can be valuable ways to get involved.
What is Back History Month?
Black History Month typically focuses heavily on the historical contributions and accomplishments of Black individuals. However, it can also serve to amplify important conversations about current events and social movements impacting Black communities across the United States. For example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continues to spread awareness and encourage action toward freedom, liberation, and justice for Black individuals and communities across the country. For many, part of observing Black History Month in February and year-round may be learning about and participating in efforts toward anti-racism and Black liberation. You can read about the latest updates in the BLM movement’s transparency report.
Negro History Week
The origins of Black History Month go back to at least 1915, when what is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was founded by Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland. In 1925, the organization conceptualized the first first Negro History Week, which later became referred to as African American History Week. It was celebrated each February because abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former American President Abraham Lincoln were both born in this month. President Lincoln and Douglass were both born in mid-February, and African Americans have long celebrated this time with emancipation celebrations.
This week to celebrate African roots and culture and putting negro history first continued to be observed through 1976. It was historically significant for many Black communities in the United States, particularly throughout the time of the Civil Rights Movement. It provided hope for many Black men and women experiencing trauma and harm, and it also represented an opportunity for more widespread education about Black history, negro life, Black resistance, Black education, and equal rights issues overall. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the entire month of February was officially dedicated as Black History Month in the United States.
ASALH also designates an annual theme for Black History Month. Since 1996, presidents have issued proclamations from Washington, DC, celebrating National Black History Month. For example, in 1959, the theme was “Negro History: A Foundation for a Proud America,” in 1992, it was “African Roots Experience New Worlds, Pre-Columbus to Space Exploration,” and in 2005, it was “The Niagara Movement: Black Protest Reborn, 1905-2005.” The 1996 proclamation notably featured black women icons Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Toni Morrison, highlighting their stories and contributions to the world. Today, this month honors the foundational work that Black activists have done throughout history as well as the other rich contributions and too often neglected accomplishments Black individuals have made to all aspects of society. It’s also an opportunity to highlight ongoing injustices of historic and ongoing oppression and mobilize people to action.
Events for Black History Month
There are many events showcasing Black History each February. Several museums participate in African American History Month every year, and you may be able to find exhibits and special assemblies putting the Afro American image and American negro history and culture at the forefront during Black History Month. Check with the following organizations for more information:
- The Library of Congress
- National Archives and Records Administration
- The Smithsonian Institute
- The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- The National Endowment for the Humanities
- The National Gallery of Art
- The National Museum of African American History
You can also check Eventbrite’s Black History Month section for local, state, and country-wide events, like exhibitions of visual and performing arts. Sometimes, you’ll find traveling exhibits that look at the contributions of African civilization to African Americans, like “Grass Roots: African Origins of American Art.” This traveling exhibit examines how African culture, African art, and the African background contribute to African American art in the South.
There are also many historical documents available online that can teach a lot about African American memories and the African American legacy during this month, including:
- Negro History Evaluates Emancipation
- Negro History Bulletin
- Remarks by President Barack Obama at Black History Month Reception
- W. E. B. Du Bois’ opinions about the omissions of the George Washington Bicentennial Commission
Tips for caring for your mental health as a Black American
Mental health is an important area to focus on during Black History Month for many. Over seven million Black or African American adults reported living with a mental illness in 2018, and Mental Health America states that Black individuals are more likely to experience feelings of hopelessness, to experience psychological distress due to poverty, and to die by suicide.
In combination with the fact that quality, compassionate, cultural- and trauma-informed mental healthcare is often unavailable to Black communities, the topic of mental health awareness and resources becomes even more important during this month and year-round. The following are a few strategies to consider when it comes to caring for your mental health as a Black individual.
If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Help is available 24/7.
Cultivate social support
Social connection is a core component of the human experience, and research suggests that it plays a significant role in both mental and physical health. Cultivating and/or leaning on a healthy circle of friends and loved ones can allow you to reap these benefits and get support from people who understand your experience and care for you. If you have culturally significant practices or traditions in your Afro-American family, you might also consider partaking in them during Black History Month to honor your heritage and familial social connections.
Self-love can be a healthy component of mental wellness. Certain practices like mindfulness have been statistically associated with increased levels of self-compassion and an increased ability to emotionally control. Other techniques to increase your own levels of self-love might include setting boundaries, setting aside time for rest, speaking positive affirmations, and seeking any physical and mental health care you may need.
Studies also show that past experiences with racism are associated with more significant levels of shame and lower self-esteem, which disproportionately affects black folks. Understanding this factor may help you make informed decisions on self-care specific to your identity, needs, and past experiences.
Connect with the BIPOC community
One Pew Research study found that 57% of non-Hispanic Black adults in the United States say that “where they currently live is extremely or very important to how they think about themselves” in terms of identity. This finding suggests that having a supportive community of other people of color around you can be beneficial for social and even mental health. Some types of communities and groups that you might find it nourishing to join or take part in could include:
- A friend/social group of other BIPOC
- Family or chosen family networks
- A historically Black university, college, sorority, or fraternity
- Black history clubs
- A support group for those impacted by racism
- A community center in your area
- Local non-profits with African American leadership
- A political movement like Black Lives Matter
- A nonprofit dedicated to Black or BIPOC rights
- A primarily Black or BIPOC neighborhood or city
- A group for those of African descent
Available resources and support
There are resources available on both local and federal levels for people of color who are looking for mental health support. Taking advantage of these resources may help you find treatment for mental health symptoms, life stressors, relationship conflicts, or identity-based struggles. The following are a few organizations and resources you can look to:
- Black Emotional And Mental Health Group (BEAM)
- Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA)
- Black Girls Smile
- Black Mental Wellness
- The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
- The Loveland Foundation
- The Steve Fund
- The Center For Black Women’s Wellness (CBWW)
- The National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN)
Celebrate Black Mental Health Pioneers
This month can also be a time to remember those who paved the way for Black mental health throughout history. A few pioneers and Afro-American scholars in Black mental health that you might learn about and celebrate this February include:
- Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D.: the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in psychology
- Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D.: the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University
- Bebe Moore Campbell: author, teacher, and activist who founded Minority Mental Health Month
- Beverly Greene, Ph.D.: a pioneer in intersectional psychology who has led studies on how racism can shape other aspects of an individual’s identity—for example, the intersection between sexuality and race and how it may impact mental healthcare.
How allies can offer support
Those who do not identify as part of the Black community but as allies of this community might observe Black History Month and learn more about the worthy historical background of this group through some of the following methods.
Learn more about allyship
Although some may be inclined to turn to Black friends to ask how they can support them, many Black communities ask that those intending to be allies educate themselves on anti-racism, privilege, and the realities of Black life and discrimination. If you want to offer support, you might try to shop at small black-owned businesses to support black economic empowerment. There are many allyship resources available today in the form of books, podcasts, social media content, and community groups. However, progressive whites and others who want to be allies might take caution to not let their allyship overshadow black voices.
Advocate for resources and legislation to improve African American life in America
Getting involved in activism is another way to practice allyship during Black History Month and year-round. This might include:
- Voting in elections
- Advocating for diversity policies
- Attending protests and marches
- Speaking up when you see or hear racist comments or behaviors
- Contacting government representatives to support helpful legislation for BIPOC communities
- Donating and/or volunteering with nonprofits related to racial justice
- Amplifying Black Voices on social media and elsewhere
Learn about mental health challenges faced by Black communities
Understanding how those in your community may be impacted by mental health conditions, suicide, substance use, and other topics—especially as a result of the lived experiences of being a person of color in the United States—may also help you be a better ally in February and beyond. You can educate yourself and help raise awareness for these challenges in an effort to promote better availability of mental health care for Black communities. Below are a few related statistics from Resources To Recover (RTOR) to provide context on the effects of mental health on Afro-American survival:
- Black Americans are 20% more likely than other groups to experience a significant mental health diagnosis like major depressive disorder.
- African Americans have the highest lifetime rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at 8.7%.
- While people with mental illness who are incarcerated tend to experience mistreatment and medical neglect, people of color in this situation are even less likely to receive proper care.
- 80% of Black Americans feel that stigma around mental health discourages them from seeking support through a therapist.
- Those identifying with two or more races are more likely to experience a mental health condition than any other racial or ethnic group.
Counseling options for African Americans
One part of caring for your mental health can include recognizing when it may benefit you to reach out for professional support. Studies have found that 60% of Black individuals seeking treatment are interested only in a meeting with a Black therapist. However, for those who may live in a predominantly white community or another area where they don't have access to resources like health insurance, finding adequate treatment can be challenging. In these cases, online therapy may represent a more available option.
Through certain online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you can indicate your preference for a BIPOC therapist when you sign up. You can also note if you have any cultural or religious beliefs you’d like your therapist to tell or if you’d prefer to see an LGBTQ+ therapist. The option to ensure your identity is respected and understood in therapy may allow you to feel safe with your therapist so you can get the care you need, whether it’s via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging. Research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy in treating various mental illnesses and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder, making it a potential option to explore for many individuals.
Black History Month offers an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Black individuals and communities throughout history. It can also be a time to raise awareness for resources that can benefit the African American community, including mental health resources for the unique challenges they may face due to their lived experiences as people of color in the United States.
If you’re experiencing mental health challenges of any kind, know that you’re not alone. There is help available through therapy, whether in person or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience in your specific areas of concern, and you can always change therapists until you find a good match. Take the first step toward getting mental health support, and reach out to BetterHelp today.
Why is Black History Month in February and not June?
Black History Month is in February because February is the month in which American President Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, both supporters of racial equality and Black freedom, were born. President Lincoln was born in the second week of February on February 12, and while Douglass was born into slavery and did not have his exact birth date recorded, he later celebrated his birthday on February 14. Historically, February has been a time when black folks have celebrated emancipation, when enslaved people were freed during the Civil War and slavery finally became illegal in the United States. Nowadays, the month of June has also become a celebration of Black history, as the US government has given federal holiday designation to Juneteenth (June 19), the date in 1865 when Union troops reached Galveston, Texas, the last city in the Confederacy where enslaved people were still held, and officially ended slavery in this country.
Who invented Black History Month?
Black History Month was developed by one of many Black history clubs, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History at Harvard University. The club started the first Negro History Week (the first celebration of Black people and their history) and published the first Negro History Bulletin, a journal intended to provide coordinated teaching and education on Black resistance and the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black people. (*This terminology is outdated and is typically inappropriate to use today). The Negro History Bulletin continued to be published up until 2001. The first Negro History Week was pivotal in that it eventually led to the first celebration of Black History Month in 1986.
Why is it important?
Black history is important because the historical narrative in the United States often excludes Black people, but the experiences, struggles for racial equality, and triumphs of Black people are a fundamental part of this nation’s story. In the past, some state governments have resisted historic teachings that include accurate depictions of slavery, the Civil War, or the civil rights movement (arguments that have recently resurfaced in some public education debates today). Despite those who have resisted historic accuracy, Black freedom fighters and allies of all races continue to fight for a full and true accounting of Black history so that children can continue to learn about the essential contributions Black people have made to the world as we know it today, from Black medical scholars and scientists to Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and the first Black president, Barack Obama.
What is a fact about Black history?
Many people are familiar with the legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But not as many people may know that Dr. King started college before most people are old enough to drive a car. Dr. King started his freshman year at Morehouse College at the age of 15.
What countries celebrate Black History Month?
The United States and Canada both officially recognize Black History Month at the federal level. Black History Month is observed unofficially in some other countries, including Ireland and the United Kingdom (although both of those countries observe it in October instead of February). These annual celebrations may inspire other countries to officially recognize the contributions of minority communities.
Why is Black History Month the shortest month?
Black History Month is celebrated in February not because February is the shortest month of the year, but because it is the month in which both President Abraham Lincoln, who worked to free the enslaved people, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass were born.
Who is the father of Black history?
The “father” of Black history is generally considered to be Carter G. Woodson, a historian at Harvard University who helped found Negro History Week, which took place during the second week of February and eventually evolved into the first Black History Month, a month-long celebration that takes place in February. Woodson earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and then became the second black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University (the first being W.E.B. Du Bois). Harvard would go on to see the graduation of Barack Obama, the first Black president, and Michelle Obama, the first Black first lady. Together, they were the first Black family to officially lead the country.
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