Black history month kickoff draws diverse crowd

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by M. Abdul-Qawiyy
For New Pittsburgh Courier

“The purpose of Black History month is to remember that Black history is America’s history. It’s a part of the history of this country. It’s everybody’s history,” said Lorraine Cook, a member of the African American Heritage Month Committee.

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SPECIAL GIFT— Lorraine Cook AAHMC Chair presents the keynote speaker Valerie Lawrence with a portrait of several great black women in history. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

On Feb. 1, the AAHMC hosted its “Black History Month Kickoff Event,” which was held at the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in Downtown Pittsburgh. The annual event celebrates the importance of Black history as American history. The theme this year, “Black Women in American History and Culture,” allowed for African American women to take center stage and give voice to their experience as women and human beings of the Black race in America.

Guest speaker Valerie Lawrence, poet and playwright, posed a pertinent question to the audience regarding the Black experience, “How would you describe a Black woman?” The majority of the audience responded, “Strong.”

Lawrence then deconstructed the myth and stereotype of the “strong Black woman syndrome” and reputation that exists in this country. “There is a myth that Black women are indefatigable, unshakable and tireless; we are not allowed to be whole beings full of emotions; emotions that we as humans are entitled to experience, including being vulnerable, needy, shy, graceful, compassionate and nurturing. So I’m willing to take my superwoman cape off to be seen as the gentle, kind, loving and nurturing woman that I am.”

Lawrence’s comment speaks to an aspect of the Black experience in this country, as historically a person of Blacker skin has been treated with disdain and thus engendered an attitude to be tough and strong nationally and internationally. But Lawrence’s suggestion of viewing oneself as “whole beings, full of emotion,” asks that one accept his or her own humanity and the full range of emotions that come along with it. And to release this notion that as a Black man or woman, one has to constantly be above his or her humanity.

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