Black History Month 2021: An Opportunity

Black History Month (BHM) began in 1925 as a week of celebration dedicated to raising the awareness of African American contributions to civilization. The celebration was extended to a month in 1976. Many of us remember learning of heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. But, until the events of the past year, the recognition of Black History Month and the celebration of the cultural significance of African American heroes has not been as widely recognized in recent years.

The acts of violence against African Americans in 2020 put the previously dimmed spotlight back on the African American experience in America, especially as we celebrate Black History Month this year. As we move forward, we are provided with a unique opportunity for shared lessons, knowledge, resources, and listening. It’s an opportunity that we, as the recycling industry, can take advantage of.

One such lesson is that of Walter J. Edwards. Edwards is one of the most prominent businessmen in Oklahoma history. Born in Mississippi in 1891, Edwards obtained only a fourth grade education. In 1907, he relocated to Oklahoma, and later began Edwards Scrap Iron and Junk Yard, one of the first-known Black-owned scrapyards in the United States.

There are also the seldom-mentioned stories of little-known African American heroes like Claudette Colvin, who at the age of 15 refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, nine months before Rosa Parks. Claudette’s story didn’t end there. She became one of four women to challenge the segregation law in court, serving as a plaintiff in the Browder v. Gayle case which successfully overturned bus segregation in Montgomery and Alabama.

In fact, African Americans invented the first electrically-powered railway, home security system, automatic elevator doors, automated refrigeration equipment used to transport perishables, lawn sprinkler, carbon lightbulb filament, bloodmobiles, Shockwave (genesis of animation on the web), laserphaco (device and technique used to remove cataracts), and more.

Another way to educate ourselves is to engage in Black History Month celebrations within our local communities. The increase in virtual events commemorating BHM this year provides a unique chance to attend these types of events from the comfort of our own homes. Take the time to not just hear what is being said but to actively listen to what you are hearing.

Supporting Black businesses is an additional means of celebrating BHM. Whether it be a favorite restaurant that you frequent, or trying a new Black-owned clothing line, flower shop, or other service provider, the possibilities are truly endless.

Remember, the celebration of Black history is not limited to the month of February. Let’s challenge ourselves to continue to listen, learn, and grow throughout the year.

How beautiful to take something intended to divide us, and use it to bring us together as humans, as citizens, as recyclers.

As a nation, we are stronger than our worst moments. Let us use our experiences as lessons to share and inspiration to work toward a better tomorrow. And let us all remember that Black history is American history.

Happy Black History Month!

Rachel Bookman is senior communications outreach manager for ISRI.