Growing up, my role models were my parents–they still are, but throughout college, that list has grown exponentially beyond two people.
Maybe when you were younger you wanted to be a doctor, photographer, zookeeper, pro athlete, scientist… There options were seemed endless and we chose what we thought was cool. But there was some reason you chose what you did, why we thought something might hold a life we wanted, whether it was because a veterinarian nursed the family dog back to health or the coolest librarian always had the best suggestions for what to pick up next. Something made it matter to you.
That’s how it works for a lot of us. For me, many of the things I wanted to be came from book characters or plots, simply because I read a lot of books. Maybe you were a little different, and that’s great.
But, we do all have something in common when it comes down to the way we were raised: we spent a lot of time in school. And in school, we ended up reading much of the same things in our textbooks.
Believe it or not, that’s how we ended up with Black History Month.
Back in 1925, almost a century ago, Harvard Ph.D historian Carter G. Woodson realized he couldn’t recognize himself in his history books and classrooms. None of it reflected his life or the color of his skin. So, he proposed a Negro History Week; at this point, people settled for seven days of appreciating the culture our lives have been born out of.
Yet, it wasn’t enough.
This celebration only became a full month in 1976 when President Gerald Ford asked his countrymen to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often-neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Though this took time and getting used to, it’s a part of our lives every year now and some of us celebrate it in the same way we celebrate Women’s history month, Latinx heritage, Pride, and so much more. We’re celebrating history.
But I also think it’s a lot more than that. For all of us.
At some point in our lives, we’re supposed to understand what we care about, find a way to follow that and make it into a career. In the process, we’re also supposed to understand that following such a thing changes who we are as people, so then we must find a way to surround ourselves with people who are willing to walk beside us throughout all of it.
Talk about expectations, am I right?
But, in order to figure out what we want or aspire to, someone probably told each of us at some point what was actually possible to reach in the first place. The presence of things like heritage months and minorities talking about their own achievements are what set those limits for people like me. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have ever found an outside view of else is out there beyond what’s right in front of me.
For anyone, history is important. More than giving us an idea of what’s happened in the past, it tells us what paths have been taken. Inadvertently, this also tells us all the ones that haven’t.
When I came to Cal Poly, I didn’t realize that my culture mattered to me as much as it does now because here, it became one of the few ways I connected to the people around me. Now, through my mentorship programs and recognizing my experiences in those of my friends, it matters a lot to me. It’s what helps set a foundation for my identity.
This happens in the same way for a lot of us.
Because now I can look at those I admire around me or the people who have come before, and I can find motivation to do new things. I can try out screenwriting and try to be even a little bit like Shonda Rhimes. Or I can look at the women in our Black Student Union and realize there’s something just as beautiful about my hair in its natural state as it is any other way. I also look at my parents and I see how they’ve gotten to where they are in their careers and even this country.
I can look at my writing and storytelling and understand that there are people like me who are incredible at it.
That is why my list of role models has grown the way it has. It’s not because I just didn’t think about all this before… It’s because I didn’t know what I was looking for or what I wanted to be thinking about in the first place. But, with people to pave the way and set a foundation for what’s possible in my life and my world—each of our worlds—we can learn to push the limits we set. We can build our own lives for ourselves on the backs of what’s already been done before.
In my opinion, that’s pretty fantastic to realize, how possible things could be. Not just for me, but for all of us.
So happy Friday and here’s to the end of a month I hope you got something out of. After all, this has been Black History Month with KWilliamsBooks. Maybe you learned something new while following me through these past few weeks, I know I definitely did.
Take care of yourselves and I’ll see you next week.