Black History Month is a time to illuminate the past, to remember past trials and tribulations, and to celebrate the contributions of Black people in this country.
The theme of this year’s celebration is Health and Wellness, an appropriate focus in the era of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and a prime opportunity to address the racial inequities of our healthcare system. The Black Doctors’ Consortium of Philadelphia has been striving to do just that, and happily, this year has seen a marked increase in the number of first year Black medical students across the nation.
Black History Month has since its inception also had a particular emphasis on the teaching of Black History in American public schools. At a moment when schools are struggling with a multitude of pandemic-related obstacles, and access to inclusive books and education are under threat, it is vitally important to share the rich and diverse history of Black Americans with the young people in our lives.
While in-person events may be limited this year, this majority Black city has an abundance of learning opportunities that you can visit. Here are a few ways to explore Black History—past and present—right here in the city we call home.
The African American Children’s Book Project celebrates its 30th nnniversary this year! Join authors, illustrators, and readers in-person for one of the oldest and largest single-day events for children's books in the country. The Book Fair will take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on February 26 from 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, with masks required. A virtual preview will be featured on Facebook Live on Saturday, February 5, 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m., as well as shared on the Youth Services Facebook page.
Check out the Free Library’s Black History Month programming on our events calendar, including a number of in-person and virtual offerings from Sundays on Stage and Author Events. This year will feature appearances by essayist Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts, music educator and novelist Brendan Slocumb, prize-winning novelist Barbara Chase-Riboud, and Guggenheim fellow Jabari Asim.
Explore the Free Library’s Blog for local Black history and booklist reading recommendations. Browse this list of 44 of the Best Books by Black Authors You Should Read in Your Lifetime. Find your favorite titles at the Free Library, or support one of Philadelphia’s Black-owned bookstores.
Celebrate the Arts
Experience Black History through performance with Virtual Sundays on Stage. Emmy award-winning storyteller Bobby Norfolk will share stories of Anansi the Spider, an icon of West African and Caribbean folklore, on February 6. Germantown drummer, poet, and teacher Karen Smith will helm The Sounds of Simone, a special tribute to singer, songwriter, and activist Nina Simone on February 20. This multidimensional performance will also feature Papa Eddie Stokes and 2020-2021 Youth Poet Laureate Cydney Brown. Finally, on February 27 actor Christine Dixon will star in Sundog Theatre’s Harriet Tubman Herself, a moving portrait of the woman who brought hundreds of slaves to freedom. This one-woman show will also feature music from period spirituals. Each Sundays on Stage performance will be shared virtually on the Youth Services Facebook page and will be available for 2 weeks following its release date.
Philadelphia’s own African American Museum is once again open to the public. Current exhibits include the work of artist and civil rights crusader Richard J. Watson (a ticketed, in-person event) and that of designer Ana Russell Jones, available to attend virtually. Also available online is Rendering Justice, a powerful look at mass incarceration in America. This collaborative project curated by artist Jesse Krimes features the work of nine formerly incarcerated artists. Online exhibits are free to the public. Visit the Art-Reach website for a full list of cultural sites with reduced in-person entry for all Access Card holders.
If outdoor viewing is more your speed, consider a visit to one of the many Mural Arts project sites depicting Black history and the work of Black artists. Take in Claes Gabriel’s reverent homage to Boat People, or Felix St. Fort and Gabriel Tiberino’s collaborative depiction of the Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters.
For an at-home historical immersion to a thumping beat, experience the Summer of Soul documentary, made by Philadelphia’s own Questlove, that brings to light the lesser-known, Black-led and organized music festival of 1969. Find it in our catalog (limited copies available) or watch online.
Honor Local History
Soak up Black History with a visit to historical sites right here in Philly, including The President’s House, a stop on the Underground Railroad, the ACES Museum, the Octavius V. Catto Memorial, and the former residences of Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson. For more learning opportunities, visit the National Constitution Center to view a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a signed copy of a speech delivered by our first Black President, Barack Obama, and other current exhibits. Call ahead to confirm in-person visiting hours.
Read, learn, and celebrate Black History this February and all year round. Then pass it along.