Growing up, I thought of February as the month I had to write a school report. I always did my report on Thurgood Marshall. I can’t really recall the reason, but it might have been that he was easy to write about, or I was just plain fascinated with his story.
Today, I am 27. Years have passed since I’ve written that kind of report, but I sit here and ask, “What does Black History Month mean to me?”
As a young black man, I want to be mindful of my answer, but my words don’t come out easy. Maybe the truth is that up until the past few years, Black History Month was just another month. Don’t get me wrong, I learned about my culture and history, but because of our society, the month would come and go without much thought. And up until recently, I didn’t have a deep sense of value as a black American.
For most of my life, I was not identified as a black man, but as a Deaf man. My Deaf identity became the priority, and how people knew me. However, the death of Trayvon Martin woke me up, and I began to notice who I really was, and who I wanted to be. As I watched the news of his death, I remembered the voice in my head saying, “that could have been you.” At that moment, I remember saying, “I am a Black Deaf American.” All the things that came with being a black American took priority and scared me. For example, getting pulled over scared me. I noticed that any time I got pulled over, my hands began to shake. The voice of my mom and grandma was in my head saying, “always keep your hands on the steering wheel. Never make sudden moves. And Brandon always address the officer with ‘Yes ma’am and Yes sir.’” Whether I did something wrong or not, fear was present. Before the officer approached my window, I would say a prayer that that day wouldn’t be my last on earth. For some, that may seem extreme. But to the everyday black man, that’s their prayer.
Now that I am older, I have taken more pride in the importance of my identity. In the past year, I saw the black community do what they always have done, and that’s come together and champion one another in leadership and life. While we still have a long way toward full healing and reconciliation, every day we strive to take a step forward.
There’s another important part of my identity – that’s through God. Through my walk, He has shown me that I am rooted in Him. He accepts me and loves me in this perfect skin. Through Him, I can find rest, peace, and comfort (Matt 11:28). I know that I am never alone because I have God. He has, and will always be with me through the ups and downs (Heb 13:5). He created and intentionally made Black and Deaf people and set me apart for His glory (Deut 14:2). He created me with perfect love and knew my purpose even before my parents (Jer 1:5).
So what does Black History Month mean to me now? It’s about recognizing those who walked before me and honoring them for paving the way so that I can stand courageously and fight the good fight. It’s about remembering those who fought for my right to have equality politically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Many of them died fighting for what others have taken for granted. Because of these heroes, I can stand on their shoulders and represent a better America. With God on my side, I know I’m not alone. So today, and forevermore, I shall celebrate and acknowledge all of me and my ancestors.