This month we celebrate black history and excellence! This month we honor black ancestors and educate ourselves about past and current black leaders and antiracism in hopes to create a more inclusive, peaceful and fair future.
In this blog post we will cover the origins of Black History Month and peer into the lives of some of Tacoma’s very own prominent black leaders.
Black History Month Origins
Black History Month finds its foundation from Carter Godwin Woodson. He is a renowned American historian and educator. Along with many black scholars before him, he noticed the exclusion of African American history in the American school system. He received his master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard.
While furthering his education, he noticed how black people were underrepresented in the books and conversations that molded how American history was taught. According to many past historians, African Americans were hardly a part of our history. Woodson understood how seriously misleading these stories had become and as a result, with Jesse E. Moorland, founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). ASALH promotes studying black history as a discipline and an essential to understanding how much American history was shaped and influenced by numerous African American accomplishments.
In 1926, Woodson and ASALH launched the first Black History Week to bring attention to this much needed change in American rhetoric and to aid in the school system’s representation of African American history. Woodson ultimately chose the second week of February as Frederick Douglass’ birthday fell on the 14th and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday fell on the 12th. Although the adoption of Black American History spread like wildfire, aiding to create Black history clubs, it wasn’t until a few decades later that it expanded to the entire month of February.
In the mid-1960s, the most popular textbook for 8th grade U.S. history classes mentioned only two black people in the entire century of history since the Civil War. It was in this decade that colleges and universities across the country transformed the week into a Black History Month on campus.
Each year, a theme is chosen for Black History Month. The first theme in 1928 was coined, “Civilization: A World Achievement.” In the 1970s, presidents started issuing national decrees with each year’s theme. This year, the theme is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”
A word from our Black Leaders in Tacoma
Now that we’ve covered a bit of the origins of Black History Month, we have asked some of our Black community leaders what their thoughts are on Black History Month. They each share a little about their dreams and goals as leaders of our Tacoma community.
Check out the first interview below!
The first of our interviewees is T’wina Nobles, President of the Tacoma Urban League and our new 28th District Senator of Washington State!! She shares about Black Leaders she’s drawn inspiration and strength from, her dreams, intentions and advice that has helped her throughout her life.
Question 1: Does this month mean anything to you? If so, what type of inspiration do you draw from this month? If not, why?
Answer: Black History Month is a time to recognize the trials, tribulations, and successes, as well as the continual battles, that are currently being faced by the Black community. It is also a time to bring light and awareness to our neighbors and friends who may not understand our history, our ongoing struggle for equality, and the contributions that we have made. It is truly a time of reflection, acknowledgement, celebration, and recognition of the African American community. Black History Month is also a time to preserve the stories of our ancestors and the unintended beauty that they tell.
Question 2: Which black leaders do you especially look up to and draw inspiration from at the national and international level?
Answer: There is a large group of influential African American leaders that I can draw inspiration from on the national and international level — past, present, and future. African American women inspire me the most. Women such as Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, and Shirley Chisholm are one of many women who standout to me. Being in the position as the second African American woman state senator of Washington state behind the Honorable Senator, Rosa Franklin, is a great milestone and accomplishment but much of that would not have been possible without the strong Black women who made a voice and name for themselves.
As we look at the new leaders in office, it is beautiful and to see Kamala Harris in one of those positions of power or even myself as a Senator. Those actions and successes are not only a direct result of the hard work and dedication but is the direct result of the perseverance of leaders such as Shirley Chisholm, who blazed the path for future generations. Shirley Chisholm once stated in a speech, “I am the candidate of the people of America; my presence before you now symbolize a new era in American political history.” She was truly a trailblazer. She is one of the individuals that paved the way for people like me to be in these positions of leadership today.
Senator Rosa Franklin was the first Black woman senator in Washington state. Senator Franklin sponsored the bill that became the Washington Housing Policy Act, which established affordable housing and anti-discriminatory policy. Throughout her time as senator, she embarked on opportunities that left a lifelong impact on the Tacoma community and specifically the Black community. I admire the work that she has done and the pathway in order for individuals like myself to make their way to the senate as well.
Question 3: Who are some prominent black leaders in Tacoma that you support and vibe with? Why? This can be people you know personally or support from afar.
Answer: There is a plethora of individuals from the Tacoma community who have inspired me. The Tacoma Urban League has been a direct passageway to many of those strong figures within this community. I will continue to uphold their legacy and advocate for equality to this day.
Thomas Dixon, Emeritus CEO and President of the Tacoma Urban League, is a person who I admire. Without his forethought and vision, the Tacoma Urban League, the legacy that I am continuing would not be possible. He opened up many doors to advance our community and took on the challenges that our community faced in order for our community to prosper. Our organization would not have been as successful and strong in the community without his guidance and leadership.
Another influential figure in my life is Victoria Woodards, who now leads the City of Tacoma as mayor. Her dedication in promoting change, equity, and continual growth is something that I admire in Mayor Woodards.
The late Elizabeth Wesley was a proponent of education and encouraged youth to further their education and develop self-discipline as a habit. The Tacoma Urban League honors her memory with a scholarship name after her — The Elizabeth Wesley Scholarship, which has awarded thousands and thousands of dollars to minority youths in Pierce County to attend college.
Lastly, the late and esteemed Harold Moss, the first African American mayor of Tacoma, Washington, left a lasting imprint in my life. He was an activist for change, he broke boundaries, and barriers. He left the blueprint for us to follow to engage, evolve, be present in the process, exercise patience, invest into our community, and be resolution-oriented. All of these people have paved a pathway for the success and upliftment of the Black community that we are now seeing today.
Question 4: What are some struggles you faced along your path? Struggles that you both anticipated and haven’t anticipated.
Answer: Growing up, I did endure homelessness. My family lived in nearly every homeless shelter in the Phenix City, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia area. At the age of 13, things were so unstable that I decided to remain in an Alabama shelter alone and was moved into the foster care system at age 15. Statistics show that one in five foster youth become homeless after the age of 18 and less than 3% will earn a college degree. I was determined not to become a statistic.
Because of my passion, energy, and hard work, I graduated high school and set my sights on becoming an educator. Education has always been central to my life and I strongly believe in giving back to the community that helped me succeed to where I am today. No one ever anticipates going through the things that they do in life, but it is a matter of how they respond to those struggles and tribulations that speak volumes. I didn’t want to solely be defined as a statistic and made strides to ensure that wouldn’t be the case.
No one can ever predict the outcomes in their life, but it will be how you respond to those challenges that will determine the path you will choose to overcome and succeed. Being a statistic, was not and is not an option that I will ever choose for myself.
Question 5: What do you think is your purpose? What plans do you have in place to fulfill it? Any sort of personal testimonial that can be utilized as advice and guidance to the reader is solid here.
Answer: One’s person is truthfully more complex than one could even ultimately understand here on earth. Being a voice of reason, change, support, and inspiration is truly the path that I walk in each and every day brings fulfillment and true purpose and meaning to my life. I believe it is extremely important for people to always have someone in their corner when it is needed, and I have been blessed to be that individual to a large number of people over the last 15 years.
T’wina inspires us through her life experiences and numerous accomplishments to continue on our path of scholarly inquiry. And she motivates us to continue to do our individual part in creating better conditions for our community and country. From there, we can create a more peaceful, fair, and prosperous future on this planet.
Stay tuned to part 2 of this interview series with our next prominent Tacoma Black Leader, Umi Wagoner, co-owner of ETC Tacoma!