Black History Month: A Reflection by Abdias Myrtil ’15, ’16MBA

Abdias Myrtil shares his thoughts on Black History Month and how African-Americans are viewed in the past and present.

There’s a lot of debate about Black History Month, especially within the black community. Does America’s history reflect black history? I say yes but would argue that it does not represent black history as a whole, especially in terms of accomplishments.

To me, Black History Month celebrates black achievements, as well as the achievements of individuals that have been oppressed. The context in which I understand Black History Month and the arguments of justifying a month for a group of people and not others also can be examined with other conversations.

For instance, let’s talk about the idea that one group has a television network targeted at that group’s entertainment: BET [Black Entertainment Television], which I believe came as a response to MTV and its selective showcase of black artists. Over time, black people began to not only embrace their differences but created language, music, mannerisms – a culture that transformed quickly and was understood by those who lived and identified with these trendsetters. Not long before, black people were forced to keep to themselves and separated in schools, restrooms and many other places.

It makes sense for a group of people, who for a large amount of their history have been taken advantage of, oppressed, and told they’re not good enough to share with would want to protect and isolate what they hold dear: culture. Even with that said, the principles and foundations that enrich the black individual are constantly blurred for various reasons – some reasons systematic, while the black community holds a level of responsibility as well.

The Untold Stories of Black History Month

Few know the story of Percy Lavon Julian, a chemist who pioneered and revolutionized the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs in large-scale production such as cortisone, birth control and steroids. One of the first black millionaires, Julian overcame his lack of early education to earn his B.A. at DePauw, an M.S. at Harvard and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Vienna. Individuals such as Julian are not highlighted enough when educating black youth on their history. The few black heroes that are spoken about are only a handful of athletes and entertainers. That illuminates some of America’s less appealing history that must be discussed more.

Popular culture seems to glorify people in the entertainment and sports industries who have lifestyles that many young people associate with success. This insinuates that these career paths are the only means of achieving it. Rap lyrics describing an impoverished youth filled with violence, drugs and injustices found in a neighborhood paints a story that many people reside in every day. Even black kids that live a comfortable life are seen as foreign to the black experience. When in reality two black kids of different upbringing will be judged based on nothing more than how they look and perceived negatively because of the color of their skin.  

Diversity and Inclusion on Campus

My view of black history in correlation to the Manhattan College experience reveals sentiments of solidarity. Such a diverse institution fosters relationships based on understanding. East coast to west coast, Ghana to India, Germany to Haiti – I’ve been blessed to come across people from all around the world. My perspective is comprised from being apart of a unique family on the track & field team. I am foreign to teammates like Mohamed Koita (France) or Love Litzell (Sweden) and I’d argue after a conversation with Ferguson Amo or Trévell Moxey, their Philly slang would make you think you’re in a land far far away.

In four years with my international squad, I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me. Our complexion does not define our relationships but rather what actions we take within our skin. Even then, our skin holds no merit or responsibility for the mistakes and achievements we hold near. As many of my brothers know, we carry our history with us and know there’s more that unites than divides us. We fear no one and respect everyone.

MC Staff