The Importance of Black History Month

By Chandler Rankin, University of Cincinnati. 

Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King Jr. could walk. Dr. King walked so that Barack Obama could run. Obama ran so that we could fly. We haven’t even spread our wings yet.

Black History Month is special to me because it’s a culmination of African American history and tribute to civil rights. It’s a reminder of why I do what I do. It’s the pulse of my advocacy. Tens of thousands of civil rights leaders lost their lives fighting for my ability to have a seat at the table in today’s world.

If this ultimate sacrifice isn’t telling of the obligation I have to pay it forward, then I couldn’t tell you what is.

During this Black History Month, I’ve reflected a lot about the opportunities that I’ve been given and how I must reciprocate the support I’ve received in my endeavors. To say that I’ve been blessed would truly be an understatement in regard to the leadership opportunities I’ve had thus far in my college career.

I’m still on the young side when it comes to my college experience, but there has been no lack of support and advice from my peers to help me advocate for my community and seek to make a change on campus. I owe it to my community to offer those same things to others in their efforts to accomplish their goals.

No feeling is quite as humbling as being empowered by others. When I made the bold decision to run for senator at-large in last year’s student government elections at the University of Cincinnati, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. I knew that I had certain issues I cared about and a plan to take action, but I was still just a freshman with little to no college leadership experience.

The backbone of my campaign and really my entire term in senate was the genuine relationships that I built with students on campus. They saw something in me and believed in me, and for that, I’m forever grateful. After that campaign is when I realized the significance of relationships in leadership. Learning this lesson early has been instrumental in my tactics since then and spurted my growth as a young leader.

Working in the African American community and for social justice issues in general can be a mentally draining and tiring practice. The work is often thankless, disagreed with by some, and very few victories are ever experienced. But that’s okay.

Knowing that building relationships gives me the best chance of making tangible change has allowed me to identify and work with a number of allies to build bridges across communities on campus. Additionally, using my position to meet with administrators, staff and students from many backgrounds is what fueled my ability to make progress around equity and inclusion during my term.

One of my mentors told me that the true test of a leader is how many of those you lead that are called to lead in their own ways as a result of your impact. By no means have I made it to where I want to be as a person or as a leader, but I am actively seeking opportunities to grow as well as opportunities to help others grow.

I am working every day to serve not only a leader, but a mentor, peer, tutor and friend so that I can inspire those around me to take that big leap. Reinvest in others all that has been invested in you because you haven’t done it alone.

Sleepless nights and elevated stress would be much worse if I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing. And on top of that, it would be exponentially worse if I wasn’t surrounded with exceptional people that may have started as working relationships but have naturally evolved into meaningful friendships. In times of difficulty, I can rest assured knowing that I have a powerful and loyal community behind me.

And when the going gets tough, the tough choose to go on. But never by themselves.

In a world where prejudice and racism still cripple my people, I must continue to lend a hand to my brothers and sisters as we climb up the stairs because it doesn’t come as easy for us.