In celebration of Black History Month, BRAVE — Black Rights, Activism, Visibility, Equity — aims to put Black joy center stage. BRAVE co-founder Keisha Merriweather said the way to do this is to put the focus on cultural aspects like art and music.
“Most of our events this month are catered to culture just because we wanted to have Black people be able to celebrate ourselves this month,” she said.
To achieve this goal, BRAVE is putting on a series of events and releases throughout the month of February. These events include aBlack Love Mixtape, released to Spotify on Feb. 12, to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The playlist, curated by Lucky Daye and Ari Lennox, features artists such as Brian McKnight, Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, Yung Bleu, Floetry, Summer Walker and more. According to Merriweather, the playlist is focused on genres like R&B for the “nostalgic feeling of love.” While the genre is often associated with romance, its primary focus has always been about connection in the Black community.
Additionally, Soul Speaking, “a night of poetry, music and the arts” will be open to the public Feb. 26 at Brookside Church at 7:30 p.m. After a year of focusing on police brutality, systemic racism and racial injustice, Merriweather said the space is intended to offer the Black community a space to heal. While there were initially supposed to be four events, one event was scrapped to avoid conflicting with events from other organizations. While past events have been online, it was important to have one in-person event scheduled to create a sense of normalcy and increased participation.
“We wanted to create an atmosphere of love and have our voices heard,” Merriweather said. “Poetry is more jazzy, more vulnerable, so I wanted everybody to be vulnerable and express how we feel, especially with everything that happened in 2020.”
BRAVE President Anthony King agreed with this, saying that creating a space for such a discussion is going to be very important for the Black community.
“We spend so much time talking about Black trauma, Black pain and things that horrify and trigger Black people,” King said. “So, I want our focused event to be highlighting Black culture, celebrating Black life and Black artists, and really providing that space where people of color can come out and freely embrace their skin inside of … the crazy, racist space that we’re in right now as a country.”
King said the organization is partnering with the Bowling Green chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health to further promote healing for Black people. The organization promotes mental health and well-being for students, as well as other members of the community, through “a focused discussion on … Black mental health and how important mental health is for the Black community.”
Choosing to focus on Black joy instead of pain is an opportunity for education as much as levity.
According to Dr. Thomas Edge, an instructor at BGSU’s Ethnic Studies Department, said pain as the primary focus of Black history is the norm for most college and high school students.
“Let’s be honest, for most students, what they’ve been taught about Black history … the main focuses they usually get are slavery and Jim Crow,” Dr. Edge said. “If those are the only historical topics you cover, then all of African American history is going to seem like misery.”
That is not to say the dark aspects of Black history should be ignored. Edge said balance is possible so long as people are willing to acknowledge and discuss every aspect of it.
“It’s one thing to acknowledge that, within horrible conditions not of their own making, African Americans experience joy and love, that they create new things … There is a place for that and there should be a place for that as long as we’re not then trying to pretend that these other things aren’t also impacting life at the same time,” he said.
The origins of Black History Month can be traced as far back as 1915, but it officially began in 1926 as Negro History Week. Founder Carter G. Woodson, according to Sarah Pruitt History.com, chose the second week of February to sponsor this event “to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.”
“Like DuBois, Woodson believed that young African Americans in the early 20th century were not being taught enough of their own heritage, and the achievements of their ancestors,” Pruitt said. “To get his message out, Woodson first turned to his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, which created Negro History and Literature Week in 1924.”
Still, Woodson “wanted a wider celebration” and enlisted the help of Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which formed branches throughout the United States. He continued to expand the event throughout the 1940s and ‘50s before being further helped by the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s. Black History Month, as it’s known today, was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week.
In President Ford’s words, the celebration allowed folks to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans” throughout history. Through its Black History Month events and beyond, BRAVE is leading the charge in following that example.
While in-person seating for Soul Speaking is full, online attendance is still available. More information on upcoming events through BRAVE can be found on the organization’ Facebook page.