Black History Month

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mark A. Gilliard
  • 48th Force Support Squadron
Former President Bill Clinton once said, "When our memories outweigh our dreams ... we have become old". It is a quote that has become one of my favorites. It comes to mind whenever I reminisce about visiting home during my years of service; of afternoons spent with my older brother and our childhood buddies as we would barbecue in my parents' back yard and share stories of all the great things we achieved "back in the day". We'd brag about that one fantastic basketball game when one of us scored 30 or more points and single-handedly won the championship. We would share the excitement of hitting three homeruns in a single game while also pitching three strikeouts in the final inning. We stretched the truth even further by telling the story of beating the cross-town rival in a high school football game and scoring a winning touchdown despite having a broken ankle. These stories and many more would begin in modest discussion, yet by the end of the night this small group of friends transformed into mythic urban legends! 

When I think of the quote from our forty-second president, I remember the thoughts that would flow through my mind at the end of each of those wonderful nights at home; "What have we achieved since then? What happened to all the dreams we had?" I realized that as the years went by and our stories grew with age, so much farther were the dreams we shared slowly fading from our grasp. Not so much because we could not achieve them, but because we spent so much time trying to relive the past that we were not living for our future. 

This year as we commemorate Black History Month, I will celebrate it with President Clinton's great words in my heart and on my mind. I will ponder this year's Black History Month national theme, "The quest for black citizenship in the Americas," and its significance given the historical achievements made over the past 450-plus years, and the unimaginable boundaries crossed during this unforgettable election year. 

I will celebrate the memories of those who have come before us; those that endured so much in the past in order for all Americans to witness the maturation of a dream that has taken several hundreds of years to be realized. And of course I will celebrate the most amazing historic event that took place Jan. 20 which displayed not just the earnestness and pride of a race, but of the character of the American people to embrace change and pursue a dream of true unity. 

I will celebrate the life of a woman born with the name Araminta, who later became Harriet Tubman, the slave called "Black Moses." Despite being denied the opportunity to read or write, she led more than 300 slaves from slavery in the South to freedom in the North. She later joined the Union Army during the Civil War, leading more than 800 black soldiers in 1863 through occupied South Carolina. She dreamed of a day of freedom and lobbied for years for educational equality for all people. I will celebrate her dream. 

I will celebrate the achievements of Carter G. Woodson, an American historian who founded Negro History Week in 1926, a celebration and remembrance that would later evolve into Black History Month. Mr. Woodson chose February as Black History Month because when the 13th Amendment was signed, abolishing slavery in January of 1865, slaves did not begin to hear of the news until February. Although he was unable to enroll in high school until he was 20, he later became a dean of Howard University in Washington DC and a great American educator. His dream was to educate other scholars on black life and culture. I will celebrate his dream. 

I will celebrate the public life of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who traveled extensively throughout the nation during her time and served as an ambassador to the United Nations for more than eight years after the death of her husband. By exercising her political and social influence, she directly contributed to the success of the establishment of the famous Tuskegee Airmen. She was an advocate for human rights and dreamed of a time of equal rights for the poor, for minorities and for the disadvantaged. I will celebrate her dream. 

I will share the memories of these and many other historic figures from our past, and I will celebrate the hopes and dreams that gave them the strength to persevere through insurmountable odds over and over again. I will praise the sacrifices they made to enable our nation to realize a day when we witnessed the symbolism of the swearing in of a president who is not identified by any one singular race and fittingly, was not elected by just one, either. And I will share the legacy of Black History Month with all my friends and associates, no matter their color, no matter their ethnicity, no matter their origins. As a nation we have come so far and seen so much. As President Obama said during his Nov. 4 acceptance speech, "The true genius of America is that we can change and our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow". 

So let us celebrate this historical time by remembering the past, yet continue to dream; for when our memories outweigh our dreams ... we have become old.