For me and a special group of youth in North Tyler here in Texas, Black History Month began in September when the coordinator in charge of the “Black History Bowl” began to confirm availability to participate in the annual competition among neighboring churches.
I would hover around Sister Dorothy Wheat, just happening to be looking for something around the piano when she was there, or just happening to go to the ladies room at the same time as she, making a slight scene to get noticed. I acted like this for a few years until she said, “Delley (as most in my family were called by this peculiar last name), you can be on the Black History Bowl team; I’ll tell you now, ‘fore you worry me to death the next two weeks.”
For three months, I and about six other teens would meet weekly at St. Mary’s Baptist Church and, fueled by sugar cookies and crimson punch, we would take in the rich and complex history and stories of our ancestors.
We vigorously set out to memorize facts about those who held a special place in Black History. By the time January rolled around, it was not only knowledge but the speed at which one could recall that Dr. Charles Drew was the first to figure out how to store blood for later use, or that Harriet Tubman led the Underground Railroad that would land you the coveted position of Round One.
The round one “contestant,” like the first runner in a relay, was the person who would set the team up for victory. Each church put their best student up first. Me and every other bowler coveted that round one acknowledgement and worked desperately to earn it. And, was it a tough round! North Tenneha Baptist Church had some of the brightest students at their church: Charles Champion (yes, that was his name, and he lived up to it) and Holly Jameson – both surefire bullets for the beginning and end of the bowl relay.
What’s to be understood more than anything is that these Bowls were about celebration. The competition was only to get us kids all gussied up. After all, the only prize any of us ever got was bragging rights based on points. The competition was a celebration of the reward of succeeding out of struggle and triumph over adversity. We learned everything about our brave and gifted ancestors in the context of joy and victory.
Today, as we celebrate Black History Month, we are lacking the luster of victory. Today’s remembrances are all about the suffering and the struggle. When we remember today, we have chosen to focus on a past full of anguish and tears — a yesterday of victimization and degradation. But the best way to honor those who have suffered before is to celebrate their joys and their victories and count our own. The best way to indulge in learning from our past through Black History Month is to lift up their songs of hope and courage in our lives today. And, the best way to repay the great debt we owe is to reap the benefits of the American dream and the opportunity for which they made a way.
Let us not spend another Black History Month steeped in guilt and oppression, counting all the wrong ways of the past or present. Rather, let us dance in ebullience for the land under our feet and the gait of freedom in which we walk. Let us join together as one and blend Black History into American History and give the gift of unity of country and join in the celebration of our rich history. Let us count the ways in which so many dreams have come to pass and, for those that have not, let us marching on in victory in the strapping spirit of our ancestors. This is the least we owe to our history.
The genius of those old black folk in my small town to arrange these simple but profound Bowls is itself legendary. That they turned historical learning into a simple, competitive exercise in which we were proud to know and eager to recite the legacy of our people has undoubtedly instilled a desire in many of us to “be somebody.” At low points in my own life, the impact of their self-discipline and perseverance has become part of my being. This is in itself a mark of history. Knowingly or not, those churches created a legacy and share a meaningful place in Black History along with those we so eagerly longed to remember.
Lisa Fritsch is an Austin, Texas-based conservative writer and radio talk show host known for her no-nonsense approach to today’s social and political issues. She is of the conservative character, her work has been published in The Dallas Morning News, The Baltimore Times, The Florida Sun, The Austin-American Statesman and Today’s Black Woman, and she has been contributing to America’s Right since December 2009. Visit her Web site at lisafritsch.com