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In Celebration of Black History Month

Martin Luther King Jr. Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others? As many of you know, February 1st kicks off the beginning of events both across the college and throughout the nation in celebration of Black History Month. At CCAC, you’ll find a range of programs, courses and activities designed to foster awareness and understanding of the lives of Black Americans both today and in generations past.

And like history so often is, the history of Black Americans is complex, complicated, but always compelling. Recently, I have been enjoying the PBS show “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by famed historian and Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. For those not familiar with the program’s format, every episode features Gates exploring the ancestry of his guests—each a well-known public figure. The stories of these individuals’ ancestors are fascinating and underscore how the experiences of parents, grandparents and even distant relations have the power to shape the lives of those living today. For some guests, Gates is able to trace their roots back several hundred years, to before the colonization of America. 

For other guests, the path to discovering their ancestors is inevitably hampered by the insidious role slavery had in breaking up families and stripping individuals of their identity. For many African Americans, the ability to trace back to before the Civil War era is impossible. Yet, what emerges in the more than 150 years since is a proud, rich and diverse history.

The popularity of “Finding Your Roots” and websites like Ancestory.com show that there is a real hunger to connect to the past. As a nation of mostly immigrants, it’s natural that, as Americans, we would want to learn about our ancestors and understand the historical context of the times in which they lived. And what better time than during Black History Month to explore the contributions that Black Americans have made to all of our lives—the collective American experience. Certainly, it’s important that, as a nation, we continue to celebrate the achievements of history’s better known Black Americans, but it’s also equally important to discover the accomplishments of those who are lesser known—including individuals within our own family. For if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that everyone has a story that is worth sharing.

During Black History Month, I hope you will embark on your own historical journey—by either researching your family tree, participating in Black History Month activities or by enrolling in CCAC’s Ethnic & Diversity Studies Certificate program or in courses such as African American History 1 & 2, African American Literature and History of the Pittsburgh Civil Rights Movement. As the widely acknowledged “father” of the community college system in Pennsylvania, the late K. Leroy Irvis once wisely said, “Get to know yourself…keep learning!”