Black History Month Highlight
What began as the celebration of African-American history for just one week in 1926, years later turned into what we now celebrate annually, Black History Month. Carter G Woodson, an African-American historian and scholar, proposed and launched Negro History Week to encourage the study of black history in America, and in 1976 it was rightfully expanded to the entire month of February. After all, black history is American history.
By Judy Carroll
Photos provided by Richie Family
I believe that America can only be worthy of it’s founding ideas of freedom when all races and genders have equal access to those freedoms, and all histories are truthfully told as they happened, and as they continue to happen. This meaning from the rich African history that existed before African men and women were brought over as slaves, to what it’s like being black in America today. Ida B. Wells, an African American woman in the late 1800’s, was an investigative journalist, an early Civil Rights leader, and one of the founders of the NAACP. Through her writing, she was able to start a worldwide campaign on lynching by telling the public the truth about these horrible happenings. In our current political and social climate, simply telling personal accounts of what it’s like being black in America today can show us not only how far we have come, but how much further we have left to go.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate, to reflect, and to continue working towards a future where equality exists for everybody. I had the pleasure to sit down with Ana Richie and her father, Carl S. Richie, Jr. to celebrate and discuss their accomplishments, talk about Black History Month, and discuss their experiences from being black in America.
The definition of activism goes like this: the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. This father-daughter duo is absolutely playing their part in bringing about change in America. Ana is a student at UTSA, studying sociology and minoring in African-American studies and her father, Carl is an attorney of the Carl Richie Law Firm and the president of the NAHRO (the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials). Carl and Ana were so kind to talk with me, as they answered a few questions.
J: What does black history mean to you?
Carl: “I enjoy that February is Black History Month...when I was in college, during Black History Month I would always try to read a book on some other famous black person, so I could continue to grow in my knowledge, whether it be an autobiography, or black poetry from someone like Nikki Giovanni. It was my own personal way of honoring black history.”
Ana: “Black History Month is about highlighting the experiences of black people in America and how much we have contributed to society. I think that while black history happens everyday, it’s nice being able to have a month that further emphasizes all of the great things we’ve done and the progress we’ve made. It’s also a month for reflection and seeing where and how we can continue moving forward. I also enjoy the celebrations and panel discussions that happen in school where we can talk to each other and gain more allies as we continue to fight for justice. We can say this is our story and ask, are you with us?”
Yes! We are with you. Ana has done amazing work with political campaigns. Growing up, she was always surrounded by politics because of her father's work so as she says, “the conversations at our dinner table looked a lot different from my friends, so I always had the outlook that politics equates to social justice and equates to change and progress. I feel like the word ‘Politics’ is kind of stigmatized because there's so much polarization right now but I always knew politics is what can make real change.” As a kid, Ana shadowed and worked for politicians such as Rodney Ellis and went on to do paid canvassing for local politicians as she got older. She then continued on to do social media for Julián Castro's Communications Internship. This was in 2018 when Castro was at the forefront of the issues happening at the border and was helping change the narrative on immigrants rights. Keep in mind she is only twenty-one years old.
Now considering Ana and her dad both grew up in very different times, I wanted to ask them:
J: Can each of you define racism as you have seen and experienced it?
Ana: “We see it a lot differently. My dad experienced racism in a much more forward way than black people in America do today, whereas today I talk with him about things like micro-aggressions and more subtle forms of racism. I see it more as dealing with that kind of subtle white supremacism that we see in simple narratives and all around us. While I hold the same principles as my dad that there's power in patience and acting peacefully, I think my generation is struggling to find a happy medium between speaking out against their oppressors and reacting with the same hate that is given to them. I know I’m making a change when I’m understanding towards people who may be my oppressors, or that are trying to see things in a different way, but it can be frustrating and tiring always having to explain to people my experiences as a minority.”
Carl: “I was born in 1959, and for two years, my family lived in an all-white community in Kansas where we were the only black family. There were occasions where my friends would get called home for dinner and tell me I would need to go home because their parents or grandparents didn’t care for black people. I remember playing basketball in school, and one game our coach put all of the black players in the game at once, and we never did that again because of the racist chants coming from the crowd. We weren’t allowed to all be on the court at once, so you see the racism there. Part of what you have to do is just smile and keep on moving and not let those people be an impediment to what you want to do, you keep on moving. You have to have that fortitude inside you, not to let somebody make you feel less than what you know you are.”
J: As both of them have many accomplishments, I wanted to ask them what they felt the most proud of out of everything they’ve achieved. When I asked Carl, even though he has been declared among the top lobbyists in the state of Texas and was recognized in 2007 as one of the best lawyers in America, his greatest accomplishment has been being a father to Ana.
Carl: “I think my greatest accomplishment is being her father, the most rewarding thing is seeing her grow and see how she is giving back through her many different activities. But being able to spend time with her is probably the most rewarding thing I could do. You know, you get accolades and awards and those are great, but at the end of the day when you’re sick in the hospital, those awards dont give you that feeling of comfort and love.”
Ana: “Starting my own jewelry business has been one of the biggest accomplishments, although it’s definitely a work-in-progress and definitely not perfect, but I was able to inspire other people to go after embracing their side hustles, especially a lot of other black women I know so that made me really happy. I think black businesses were lost in integration, so with me starting my own business, it’s nice to maybe be seen as a business owner for other women of color. I also helped co-found the Black Law Students Association at UTSA and was the president, which was very challenging but now there are so many African-American students who have access to resources they didn’t before, and have new avenues to get into good internships.”
J: Can you pinpoint a time in your life when racism showed itself in your personal life?
Ana: “My dad knows what I’m about to say. At an early age, I knew I was black, even if I didn’t necessarily look like what the white children I went to school with thought I should look like as a black person. As a kid, people would ask me why I didn’t “talk black” or would question if my dad really was black because he is so successful. I blew these comments off but I vividly remember third grade, it was Black History Month. I can remember what I was wearing and where I was sitting in the classroom. My teacher was reading a children's book to the class about Martin Luther King, Jr. and she would stop occasionally to ask us what we thought about it. My very best friend, she was white, was sitting next to me in class and raised her hand and said that she didn’t like black people at all, and that ever since her dad's car was robbed by a black person she thought that all black people were bad. I just looked at her and thought, but I’m black? And I don’t think this registered with her. I just remember crying and realizing that I had just lost a friend. I didn’t know what to say or how to change her mind.”
These are real people. Ana and her dad were so kind to open up to me about who they are and how they view the world and I think simply knowing these everyday accounts will help to continue the fight for justice and equality. The Richies live by a principle of peace and love and this is something we should all aspire to live by, not only during the celebration of Black History Month, but every other second of every day as well.