2021 Black History Month – The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity

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The Blackwell Family from the personal collection of Jerry and Cynthia Woods.

By Jerry Woods

The Black History Month observance began in 1926 as Negro History Week.
The event, a brainchild of noted historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and others evolved into Black History Month in 1976.
Over the years, scores of insightful themes of focus have been highlighted. The black family: Representation, Identity and Diversity is the theme for 2021.
In reference to the black family, the Black History Bulletin Volume 83, Number Two presents this discourse: “The black family has been a topic of study in many disciplines – history, literature, the visual arts and film studies, sociology, anthropology and social policy. Its representation, identity and diversity have been reverenced, stereotyped and vilified from the days of slavery to our own time. The black family knows no single location, since family reunions, and genetic-ancestry searches testify to the spread of family members across states, nations and continents. Not only are individual black families diasporic, but Africa and the diaspora itself have been long portrayed as the black family at large. While the role of the black family has been described as a microcosm of the entire race, its complexity as the ‘foundation’ of African American life and history can be seen in numerous debates over how to represent its meaning and typicality from a historical perspective – as slave or free, as patriarchal or matriarchal/ matrifocal, as single-headed or dual-headed household, as extended or nuclear, as fictive kin or blood lineage, as legal or common law and as black or interracial, etc. Variation appears, as well, in the discussions on the nature and impact of parenting, childhood, marriage, gender norms, sexuality and incarceration. The family offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present.”
In my opinion, Alex Haley’s “Roots – The Saga of an American Family” served as my impetus to renewed emphasis and interest in the black family. Additionally, the 1977 television mini-series “Roots” vividly solidified my interest. According to the Washington Post, “Roots” attracted 130 million viewers. I was one of those viewers. I, like numerous others, no doubt, shuttered at some point of the mini-series’ brutal and oppressive scenes, however, the resilience and determination for the family’s survival eventually overshadowed.
Years following, a resurgence of family reunions and gatherings flourished.
Some gatherings included blood of kin family members as well as neighbors and community folk sharing a common thread, sharing a common bond.
I am confident the 2021 Black History observances will feature speakers, symposia songs, and programs to enlighten, encourage and entertain those who avail themselves. Further, I am hopeful that greater audience is gathered to benefit from the experience.
Alex Haley remarks this reference to family, “In every conceivable manner, the family is the link to our past, bridge to our future.” True to this statement, the Black Family echoes of a past dotted with trials, triumphs, emotional hills and valleys. This past forcibly compels me to reflect and remember, while the bridge provides a passage to a future undergirded by tried and tested faith, resilience and hope.