Jason Reynolds: Grab the Mic Newsletter, Black History Month Edition

This newsletter is the latest in a series of guest posts from Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and was originally published on the Library of Congress blog.

First things first: Happy Black History Month!

Second things second: I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday full of rest and … more rest. And maybe some laughter. But mostly rest. Me? Well, I’ve done my best. But we’re not here to talk about me, right? No, there are far more important things to talk about, like …

Black History Month!

I’m not going to give you the usual spiel about how important Black History Month is as a way to shine light on the accomplishments and contributions of Black people over the course of the history of this country. You know that. I’m not going to mention Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, slavery, Black inventors, or even the new heroes of our day like Amanda Gorman. You know them as well. Instead, I figured we could take a moment to drill down on the word “history.”

What does it mean? When I was young it pretty much meant “boring.” It meant time to sleep in class, or doodle, or pass notes (Do y’all still pass notes? Is that a thing?) or daydream about french fries, or … you get the point. Just the word “history” could send me on a distant voyage into the imagination, far from any classroom or teacher trying to convince me that it was important. Of course, history is important. But it almost felt too important to be interesting, like the 5 o’clock news. Or the 6 o’clock news. Or the 7 o’clock news.

But when I started digging into the word, when I decided to do a little research on my own about the meaning of “history” and where that word came from, I discovered something important and interesting. “History,” by most definitions, is a story outlining past events. I guess that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. I mean, the word “story” literally makes up 80 percent of the word. But I found a few other old definitions, other meanings attached to the inception of this word, the most interesting coming from the Greeks. The way they defined “history” was all about learning. A knowing by inquiry. What this means is, history is all about documenting the questions you ask. Which would mean … according to my calculations … to make history would be to ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.

A-ha!

So, as we celebrate Black History Month this year, let’s not just give presentations on the great people who have shaped our country and our world; let’s also work to figure out what questions they may have asked to do so, and what questions we should be asking now—right now—to make history ourselves, every day.

3 Comments

  1. C L Couch
    February 1, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    Happy Black History Month!

    You’re so right to emphasize the questions those in the past must have encountered or created, which inform the questions we must ask now. And the exigent need to listen to the responses.

  2. Monica Rowley
    February 3, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    This post has inspired my 10th grade students in incredibly deep ways that I had not anticipated when I assigned it as a reading. Part of their response was to generate a list of five questions they have. We will be discussing and sharing those questions next class, and I will encourage my students to comment on this blog as well. Thanks for this. As a group, we found this blog to be a refreshing and down-to-earth approach to an important topic that is often taught in the same way year after year. Cheers for presenting a different approach that connects to inquiry in general!

  3. Lisa
    February 12, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    I came across this article as I was searching to put something into our Madison VA Hospital Newsletter for Black History Month – I am so glad I did! Very well written and such a great way to shift the focus from just pointing out the same things we write every year in February. This really hit me and I hope it hits my readers too. Thank you!

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