When I was a child, I was always immersed in Black history. My mama always wanted me to know the women and men who sacrificed so much to make changes in society. Learning about Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Madame C. J. Walker, Frederick Douglass, and W. E. B. Du Bois was the tip of the iceberg. I vividly recall hours spent browsing encyclopedias and writing about these incredible people. The pages of Maya Angelou’s poetry have become ingrained in my memory, and I was always trying to memorize them as a child. I would listen to her read them and try to pause when she paused and inflect when she did. Learning and reading poetry from people like Paul Laurence Dunbar and Phillis Wheatley inspired me to write my own. You see, Black history for my mother was not reserved for one month but rather was celebrated throughout the entire year. Unfortunately, as I have become older I lost touch with my roots and all the knowledge I once had. Thus, this Black History Month I wanted to reflect upon and discover the history behind the month as well as shed light on some amazing people.

There has been ongoing discourse on the importance of African-American history and the need for celebration. It all began around 1915 when historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson responded to African-Americans’ lack of knowledge about their history. He became the founder of an organization now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. A decade after its founding, this organization initiated the first Black History Week in February 1926. If you always wondered why February was chosen as the month, the reason is that Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two influential figures in African-American history, had their birthdays in February.

Eventually, in 1976 this week-long event was extended to the full month of February when U.S. President Gerald Ford issued a message on the observance of this month. In 1986, Congress passed a law that declared February as the official month to celebrate Black and Afro-American History, and every February since this has been celebrated in the United States. I also discovered that Black History Month is celebrated in Ireland, the Netherlands, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.

Between slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and Black Lives Matter, many of the continual struggles of the Black community are highlighted and talked about in schools whenever the curriculum does, though seldom focus on Black history. In contrast to the typical focus on Black Americans’ pain and struggles throughout U.S. history, today I am focusing on Black joy. I have learned about a lot of amazing, up-and-coming activists, artists, philanthropists, and poets. I wanted to recognize incredible Black people whose names might not be well known.

Vee Kativhu 

Only 24 years old, Kativhu is an education activist and the founder of Empowered By Vee, an organization dedicated to academic empowerment for students of color at the university level. Kativhu uses her platform to share tips and advice to help underprivileged and underrepresented people from across the world recognize their own talent and potential. An Oxford University and Harvard University graduate, Kativhu has been named a Rare Rising Star, Future Leader, Diversity Champion, and LinkedIn Changemaker.

Yelitsa Jean-Charles 

Founder of Healthy Roots Dolls, a multicultural children’s toy company, Jean-Charles began this business because she grew up never having a doll that looked like her. Aiming to teach young Black girls to love their natural hair, her company designs beautiful Black girl dolls with real curly hair that can be styled the same way as Black hair! Jean-Charles graduated from the Rhode Island School Of Design with a BFA in Illustration and a concentration in Race and Gender, and she started her company with a grant from Brown University.    

Sidney Keys III

Keys is a 17-year-old scholar, entrepreneur, and activist. He began his own organization at just 10 years old. His organization Books N Bros is a youth-led book club for young African-American boys to explore stories curated just for them. Currently, Books N Bros has two chapters based in St. Louis, Missouri and Atlanta, Georgia. Keys wanted to spread his love for African-American literature and released “Books N Bros: 44 Inspiring Books for Black Boys,” a book with his reviews of the best books he has read, at just 16.

Maya Penn

Penn is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, animator, artist, and the CEO of her eco-friendly fashion company Maya’s Ideas. Founded in 2008, Maya’s Ideas is an award-winning slow fashion brand creating sustainable, artisan—crafted accessories and clothing made from organic, recycled, and vintage materials. Her focus on environmental sustainability shows through her TED Talk and can be seen in every aspect of her work. 

Clint Smith III

A writer, poet, and scholar, Smith is also the host of the “Crash Course Black American History” YouTube series. Through 51 episodes, he goes through very important issues relevant to the Black community, and while highlighting our struggle, he also highlights our achievements as a people. You can find his many brilliant poems that focus on topics such as poverty, education, equality, and accessibility on YouTube and through TED Talks. He is also a staff writer for The Atlantic, and I would recommend checking out his articles; one I read recently was “The Joy Of Morocco,” where he talks about a beautiful moment in which one player dances with his mother on the field.

These are just some of the countless, amazingly talented, intellectual, and unique Black creators and changemakers. Black history happens every day and should not be limited to just a few weeks in the year, but, rather, it should be celebrated through a lifelong journey of learning. I wish y’all an amazing Black history-filled year!