Last year — amid the pandemic, months after the murder of George Floyd sparked racial reckoning — an African-American studies professor from California suggested we think about Black History Month ( which started again this week) through a lens that, in some ways, seemed against the moment: Joy.
“Black joy,” Mei-Ling Malone of Cal State Fullerton told Voice of OC, “is an act of resistance. Like other communities, black people, of course, feel tremendous pain, outrage, grief, and depression, and we struggle with our mental health. But there is also a necessary desire and practice of joy. As long as there has been racial oppression, there has also been resistance and black joy.
Is there a prettier or more fitting way to frame Black History Month?
A year later, there is still a lot of work to be done in the name of equity and racial justice. There is also much to celebrate and enjoy. In Philadelphia this month, it looks like art and music, good food and good citizenship, joy and resistance.
Here’s what to know and do for Black History this month and all year
MEET THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN ALL-STARS OF PHILLY
Philadelphia was home to the first African-American in space, the nation’s first black woman elected to a state legislature, the nation’s first African-American federal judge, as well as Marian Anderson, Pearl Bailey and several other entertainers, incredible writers and thinkers. The black icons are all over, including the 28 Charles Barkley named all-stars a few years ago in The Citizen. Learn more about them here, or follow our Instagram and Facebook accounts, where we feature a new person every day at 9 a.m. and 8 p.m., respectively.
LEARN MORE ABOUT BLACK HISTORY
Nikole Hannah Jones Project 1619 had its detractors (including prominent historians), but it launched an important new way of thinking about America and its black citizens. by Clint Smith How the word passed is another look at slavery and its impacts, while that of Isabelle Wilkerson The warmth of other suns beautifully explores the Great Migration in the early 20th century. End with a look at our modern history, with Brian Stevenson’s heartbreaking and inspiring tale just mercy.
CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH AT EVENTS AROUND THE CITY
Speaking of icons: Betsy Ross House celebrates all month with historical interpreters portraying famous Philadelphians like Frances Harper and Richard Allen, live storytimes and more. You can learn about some current Black Philadelphians making a difference at Smith Memorial Playground’s “Leaders and Legends” exhibit throughout the month. The Philadelphia Film Society puts on a series of Sidney Poitier films all month. hair spray stars Shayna Steele and Chester Gregory, as well as american idol finalist Michael Lynche, join the Philly POPS for a Motown celebration February 18-20. Check back here for continued suggestions on what to do and where to go for more fun during Black History Month.
SHOP @ LOCAL BLACK OWNED BUSINESSES
Here’s a quick way to get started: Join Harriet’s Bookstore for its Sisterhood Sit-In Trolley Tour on Saturdays in February and March. The two-hour tour will take you to five black women-owned businesses in the city, with a 15-minute stop each: Harriett’s Bookshop; Franny Lou’s porch; Apothecary of Liberty; Swamp + Mane; and Yowie. The goal, according to Harriet? “Throughout the pandemic, this country has lost 40% of its businesses owned by black women. We would be remiss if we didn’t do something to preserve and protect the businesses still here.
RELATED: Find other black-owned businesses that are also giving back to their communities.
DINING AT BLACK RESTAURANTS
Really, you could spend the whole month eating at another black-owned restaurant in Philadelphia from morning till night. Here’s what a dreamy, tasty day might look like: Morning coffee and conversation at Franny Lou’s Porch in Fishtown; chicken and waffles at the Breakfast Boutique in Chestnut Hill; jerk chicken lunch at Caribbean Cafe on South Street; a mid-afternoon cupcake at MilkSugarCakes in South Philly; tea at Viva Leaf Tea Co. of Mt. Airy (whose founder, Christa Barfield, is a guest speaker at a SustainPHL symposium Feb. 17); Doro Wot (Ethiopian stew) at West Philly’s Abyssinia; followed by drinks and music at the South Jazz Kitchen on North Broad Street. Or… well, the options are endless, really.
Check out this list of over 130 black-owned restaurants in Philly from The Infatuation. Or stay indoors and get food delivered through Black and Mobile, which is like Caviar for black-owned restaurants.
MAKE (THEN TACKLE) A PHILADELPHIA BLACK PLAYLIST
Include novels like Lorene Cary’s 30-year-old classic black ice and Kiley Reid’s first hit of 2020 Such a fun age; Winner of the 1984 American Book Award for super-poet Sonia Sanchez Homegirls and Handgrenades: Poems and the poetic appreciation of Dr. J by Philadelphia native Ross Gay in 2020, Hold: A Poem; cultural histories like WEB Du Bois’s 1899 classic The Philadelphia Negro and Marc Lamont Hill 2020 We are still here: pandemic, policing, protest and possibility; The 1968 space opera by Samuel R. Delany Nova and stories from Rasheedah Phillips and other members of Philly’s Black Quantum Futurism.
Want more ideas? Ask your local black booksellers at Harriet’s or Ida’s Bookshops, Uncle Bobbies or Amalgam Comics.
RELATED: Watch The Citizen Book Club with Kiley Reid and Jeannine Cook
HOST YOUR OWN BLACK PHILLY FILM FESTIVAL
Want to better understand the good, bad and weird of your city? To verify Let the fire burn, the definitive MOVE documentary; Tiger Hill’s The shame of a citythe inside story of Philadelphia’s 2003 mayoral race; Quest, an award-winning documentary about a North Philly family over the years; and concrete cowboy, Ricky Staub’s fictional account of Philadelphia’s urban horsemen. Finish with a screening of Questlove’s soul summeron the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, then download the just-released soundtrack to keep the mood going.
Want even more? Check out registrations for last year’s Black Star Film Festival, then buy your tickets for this year’s event in August.
SEE BLACK ART
Start with local museums dedicated to African-American artists, like the October Gallery and Urban Art Gallery, as well as cultural hubs at the Colored Girls Museum, African American Museum of Philadelphia, and Museum of Black Joy. But also find the works of black artists during virtual visits to Mural Arts, or to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and discover these 20 black artists to see in Philadelphia.
RELATED: What Philly could learn from Chicago’s effort to bring art to every neighborhood
BE AN ALLY
Many black-led civic and social groups are doing the hard work to push for the change needed, standing up for the rights we already have. The rest of us can help by standing by their side. Some groups to consider donating or volunteering with: ACLU of Pennsylvania, Frontline Dads, Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, Womanist Working Collective, Philadelphia FIGHT, Amistad Law Project, Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project, Free the Ballot and Philly Children’s Movement. Push yourself to do even more this month with the Because of Them We Can BHM Challenge.
RELATED: See other ways to work for racial justice here
GIVE A LITTLE MORE
If you can, author Michael Eric Dyson urges people, especially white people, to make what he calls “individual reparations”: hire black workers and pay them extra.
RELATED: Watch Michael Eric Dyson move from reckoning to reconciliation at Ideas We Should Steal Festival 2020
SUPPORTING BLACK EDUCATORS
Research shows that having teachers who reflect their students helps bridge achievement and opportunity gaps, which is especially important for black students in Philadelphia. According to former Master’s principal Sharif El-Mekki’s Center for Black Educator Development, while more than 25% of Philadelphia public school students are black boys, only 4% of teachers are black men. But when black students have just two black teachers in elementary school, they are 32% more likely to go on to college. El-Mekki, a sometimes-citizen contributor, launched the Center a few years ago, to address this disparity through recruitment and training. You can support the work here.
RELATED: Sharif El-Mekki’s work to build black role models in the classroom
PROTECT THE VOTE
Last week saw the first (hopefully last) blow to easy voting in Pennsylvania when a Commonwealth court struck down the state’s two-year-old Voting by Mail Act – a law, by the way. , passed by the same Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn it when they were unhappy with the results of the 2020 election. It’s happening in our backyards — not just in the voting access laws of DC, in particular, that benefit voters of color whose jobs make it difficult to get to the polls on Tuesdays (not to mention anyone particularly at risk from Covid these days). That these laws are dismantled here and elsewhere is no coincidence. Support the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s fight to preserve access to the vote, or Common Cause PA’s voter protection efforts.
And, of course, vote yourself this year for US Senator, among others.
To be involved
Doing business for good: pound cake
Generation Change Philly: The Intrepid Artist
Citizens of the Week: Stephen Piner and Jamir Shaw
Header photo by Steve Weinik / Mural Arts Philadelphia