The old ways of celebrating Black History Month are a memory of a not so distant past. 2020 was an essential year in recognizing injustices, uplifting black people, and understanding the power of white privilege. Because of this, non-Black people understand that Black lives are not insignificant or unimportant. And this year, we hope that they recognize that the celebration of Black lives are not limited to only one month but matter every day, 365 days of the year.
Why Black History Matters
Every day, African-Americans are making and celebrating our history and moving the culture forward. Black America influences politics, art, culture, food, and many other instances of American life. We are still striving to make an impact—just ask Madam Vice-President Kamala Harris.
In this year’s guide to Black History Month, we’ll focus less on individual events across the city instead share efforts that holistically recognize and uplift African-Americans through continuous action and communication.
1. Learn about Black history and culture
Let’s start with the basics. You know that time in high school when you learned about George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, and Thurgood Marshall? Well, sufficient to say that there are more historical figures, facts, and moments that took place beyond what we were all taught in school. African-American history is not a silo. It is truly American history and has shaped our country in meaningful ways. As you look to celebrate Black History all year long, here are just a few resources to dive into to learn more about black history and culture:
- The Dusable Museum of African-American History: Chicago’s local African-American history museum is a rich resource that preserves people of African descent’s experiences and achievements. The Smithsonian museum affiliate and holds over 15,000 pieces in its archives, including paintings, sculpture, print works, and historical memorabilia.
- Google Arts & Culture: This digital resource from tech giant Google brings together a collection of images and media from 80+ different museums, cultural institutions, and foundations. This reserve spans years of Black history and culture online and at your finger tips.
- NAAACP: The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is an incredible civic engagement resource. It also specializes in advocacy and the overall empowerment of African-Americans.
2. Dine at a Black-Owned Restaurant
Dining and supporting black-owned restaurants is pretty simple. There are Black Chicago Eats, Seasoned & Blessed, and even our mapped guide to black-owned restaurants. These resources make it simple to discover your favorite foods from a black-owned business. The next time you dine out, consider dining at a black-owned restaurant. Support them on social media by snapping a picture of your food or by writing a raving food review to help boost the visibility of the restaurant. Here are some of my favorite black-owned places to dine and drink in Chicago:
- Virtue Chicago: It’s okay to be giving and selfish all at the same time when dining at this restaurant. Order the blackened catfish for yourself. You can also share an order of fried green tomatoes, greens, and mac and cheese with your fellow dinner guests. But, only if you want to.
- Phlavz: Owned by two young African-American men (Phil and Andrew), Phlavz has quickly become a go-to Chicagoans craving decadent takes on bar food favorites. Try popular picks like the salmon rolls, jerk chicken tips, and jerk chicken tacos. In the suburbs and can’t make the trip to the city? Phlavz has you covered with their newest location in Orland Park.
- LiteHouse Whole Food Grill: It’s like Chipotle but way better! The black-owned restaurant takes the customization of quick-service restaurants to an entirely different level. LiteHouse offers various healthy alternatives, including bowls, wraps, and salads with a myriad of protein and side options for you to choose from. My go-to—the jerk chicken bowl with sweet potato fries and a side of honey mustard for dipping sauce.
- Emeche Cakery + Cafe: Baked good lovers rejoice! Emeche Cakery + Cafe has precisely what you need to fix your sweet tooth morning, noon, or night. As a person with a very minute sweet tooth, Emeche is my go-to spot when I have a craving. Favorites from this Bronzeville bakery includes the cupcakes(all of them) and the banana pudding. I am still tasting my way through the menu and am sure there’s even more that will leave my meager sweet tooth satisfied.
3. Champion Black Creators and pUBLICATIONS
Black creators and publications are vital threads within the American fabric. Without historical publications like the Chicago Defender, African-Americans would not be able to tell their stories, in their own voice, to their communities. The same goes for the arts. African-Americans are not monolithic, and each person has a unique way of expressing themselves in whatever medium deems the most impactful. As you look to celebrate Black History through the celebration of the arts, consider some of my favorites:
- Black Harvest Film Festival: An annual film festival in Chicago held in conjunction with the Gene Siskel Film Center. The films featured independent films that tell the stories and explore the images, heritage, and history of the worldwide Black experience.
- The Triibe: The millennial perspective of the news we can all use. A narrative that primarily focuses on the news and culture in Chicago.
- South Side Community Art Center: A community art center based on the South Side of Chicago. The arts center preserves and promotes the progression of Black art.
- Paul Octavious: A Chicago based photographer and overall experimental creative.
- Eve Ewing: Dr. Eve Ewing is a writer, educator, cultural organizer who is proud of her Chicago roots. Her work stems from a collection of poetry to fictional books for young readers.
- Oscar Joyo: A visual artist and illustrator with a strong aesthetic towards Afro-futurism.
4. Patronize Black-Owned Businesses
Many black owned businesses provide a range of goods and services. From nail salons to grocery stores, there are black-owned businesses both online and offline near you. If you need a one-stop-shop of black-owned companies, visit sites like Black Owned Chicago, a directory and guide of owned business in the Chicagoland area. Here are a few go-to’s to jumpstart the journey:
- Shop Love Peridot: Based in the South Loop, this gift boutique has a great selection of motivation gifts for your loved one and yourself.
- Plant Salon: The plant and beauty boutique takes luscious to new levels. The shop features an array of tropical houseplants and selection of indie beauty goods.
- Forty Acres and a Mule: This black-owned grocery hub makes buying organic produce affordable for black and brown communities. What began as a pop-up and delivery service will soon expand into a full-line grocery store in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
- SemiColon Bookstore: The popular bookstore and gallery has an incredible collection of books for readers of all ages.
- An Orange Moon: Owned by a dynamic couple, an orange moon is a furniture store featuring a collection of modern and antique furniture. As well as an array of decor and fine art.
5. Support a black-owned Community Organization
As you look to celebrate Black history month year-round, consider supporting black-led organizations as well. While any organization that gives to disadvantaged communities is terrific, it is even more impactful to support Black-owned and understand the direct racial disparities that they are fighting to fix.
If you can, try to make your donation consistent by setting up automatic contributions monthly. If you cannot donate financially or seek more ways to get involved, reach out to the organization for volunteer opportunities or join their professional board. Here are some other resources to review as you look to support a black-owned community organization:
- Black Power Chicago: Black Power Chicago is a group chat led by Imanii Williams, The group frequently shares actionable community efforts like store clean-ups, protests, service opportunities and more.
- Charity Navigator: A crowd-sourced list of Black-founded nonprofits that are vetted and ranked by the philanthropic website.
6. Create an Open Dialogue With Black People
African-Americans are born with racial and ethnic disparities. From the maternal mortality rate (black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth) to education, building equity, and even their professional career, there’s been a system in place for centuries that has remained prejudicial to them.
Keeping this in mind, you can only imagine that black people have a lot to say and need the space to do so without fear of consequence. It’s not easy to openly engaging in conversations about race. It can be downright terrifying. But for healing to begin and growth to take place, conversations that makes us feel the most uneasy need to happen. When engaging in dialogue with a black person, consider this:
- Don’t assume: So you want to engage in a conversation about race and think that your black friend wants to too, right? Wrong! Some black people would rather chew glass. Regardless, leave the door open for dialogue, should the opportunity ever arise.
- Listen with intention: When you are having a conversation—don’t interrupt. This is a vulnerable moment, and this person needs to be heard. Be sure to openly consider their perspective, repeat what you’ve heard, ask questions, and then respond to what they’ve said. With empathy and understanding.
- Educate yourself: Start with Google, read some helpful articles, and start to educate yourself on what it means to be a true ally. Like with all personal growth, it will take time and effort and make a massive difference for you and those around you.