Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, offers a regular newsletter, GRAB THE MIC. This post was originally published on the Library’s main blog and From the Catbird Seat: Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress.
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.
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.
Interesting and instructive. And I am a former history teacher.