Black History Month has a theme…who knew?

The theme for 2022 focuses on Black health and wellness.

I was today years old when I learned each Black History Month has a theme. I called my grandmother and asked her why no one had ever told me; she didn’t know either. I’ve been celebrating Black History Month all my life and never knew there were levels to this.

Credit: ASALH

Black History Month themes are chosen by the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH). Considering the organization was founded by the “father of Black History,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson,  such a responsibility makes sense. Past themes include “The Negro Achievements in Africa” (1935), “Black History: A Role Model for Youth” (1981), and “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. (2021).

The theme for Black History Month 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness.” In his presidential address (pdf), ASALH President Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney noted that in the ninety-five year history of Black History Month celebrations, this year’s theme couldn’t be more appropriate. “Our nation has suffered through two years of a worldwide pandemic called the coronavirus or COVID-19. Almost one million Americans have died during the pandemic,” Dulaney said. “African Americans have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 more than any other group of Americans.”

This year’s theme is also meant to address “the history of healthcare in the African American community” and is also a “historical examination of the financial and economic health and wellness of Africans Americans.” Dr. Dulaney is right; if there was ever a time when focused conversations about the holistic thriving of Black America were needed, the time is now.

That’s why it’s important when Ciara says we must “rewrite the narrative” concerning sisters and cervical cancer—and why we need to take seriously how abortion bans will negatively impact Black women as well. It matters to be intentional about the way we discuss emotional health with our children. And with a recent succession of devastating losses, now more than ever we must prioritize our mental health. These are trying and difficult times.

Yet, as Dr. Dulaney said, it “has not been all negative.” From Onesimus, the enslaved African who taught slave owners the method of inoculation during a smallpox outbreak in 1721, to Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett leading a team that developed the COVID-19 vaccine, Dulaney noted that African-Americans “have contributed many medical and scientific innovations to the nation’s health and wellness.”

This is true. While we make time to acknowledge the health disparities that affect our quality of life, we must also celebrate the strides we’ve made and how we refuse to relinquish joy and hope. Because it matters that the class entering medical school in 2021was the most diverse in history. We should be excited about the Black Men’s Research Institute at Morehouse College, the $300,000 grant Alabama State University received to support agricultural studies and the 27 Black colleges that will receive $20 million to address health disparities and outcomes.

Black History Month isn’t just about how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. It’s also about reimagining the steps we take to get there. For some of us, it will mean taking an inventory of our health and making the necessary appointments. For others, it will be taking a few moments out of each day to prioritize self-care. In my role here at theGrio, I’m excited about the conversations we’ll have this month—where the past is prologue, the present is ripe with possibilities and the future is what we shape for ourselves. And, of course, we’ll never again forget that Black History Month has a theme.

Candice Marie Benbow is theGrio’s daily lifestyle, education and health writer. She’s also the author of Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @candicebenbow.

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