Throughout the month of February, AOII will honor and celebrate Black History Month through education, reflection and more.
Let’s begin with the origin and history of Black History month in the U.S. and Canada:
According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and History.com, Black History Month is an annual time of celebration, reflection and honor of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. “Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history (History.com, 2021). We encourage you to take time to learn more about the origin and history of Black History Month through ASALH’s website.
Canada also celebrates Black History Month throughout the month of February largely due to in part to the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine P.C., C.M., O.Ont, C.B.E. Learn more about Canada’s Black History Month origin and history here along with more information about the Honourable Jean Augustine P.C., C.M., O.Ont, C.B.E. here.
We recently had a sister reach out encouraging AOII to share resources that celebrate and showcase Black joy and excellence. We sincerely appreciate her insight that only sharing/promoting resources focusing on struggles within the Black community, including system racism or Black trauma, can enforce the idea of “othering” Black people and making them seem less than. Please see our updated list of resources below.
Books to Read
The books presented in this list are all written by Black authors and represent a variety of topics as well as non/fiction. While available through big box retailers we also suggest you search for local bookstores in your area to see if they carry copies.
- What started as a social media series hosted by TV commentator and former NFL player Emmanuel Acho during the summer of 2020, has now been taken a step further and published as a book. Described by the publishing company: “In Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, Acho takes on all the questions, large and small, insensitive and taboo, many white Americans are afraid to ask—yet which all Americans need the answers to, now more than ever.” The book is available in bookstores near you, online for delivery, and as an audio book if you’d prefer to listen to Acho read the book himself. Take some time this February to learn about what Black people have faced for hundreds of years and continue to experience daily – it’s never too late to learn.
- Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye dives into a young Black girl’s life growing up wanting to be “normal” and have the blond hair and blue eyes of other American children around her. Toni Morrison was born in 1931 and grew up in a semi-integrated area where racial discrimination was a constant threat, and weaves racial discrimintation and experiences throughout her novels. She is the first Black woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature and holds numerous other accolades such as the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. After reading The Bluest Eye you might be inspired to read other novels by Morrison including Song of Solomon and Beloved.
- “Kiley Reid’s witty debut asks complicated questions around race, domestic work, and the transactional nature of each.”– Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of Heads of the Colored People
Set in modern day Philadelphia, this work of fiction will leave you questioning various interactions with those around you and how they might be perceived. Drawing from recent happenings in the US, Kiley Reid presents a relatable page-turner in her debut novel that will leave you wanting more. Kiley Reid is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship and currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Are you ready to dive deep into the history of fraternities and sororities on American college campuses and learn how certain practices and traditions that have been in place for decades have contributed to the racial divide? Blackballed is an explosive and controversial book that rips the veil off America’s hidden secret: America’s colleges have fostered a racist environment that makes them a hostile space for African American students. As a member of a fraternal organization, take the time this Black History Month to read this work which serves as a call to action for universities to make radical changes to their policies and standards to foster a better legacy for all students.
- Homegoing serves as a modern-day reconstruction of lost and untold narratives—and a desire to move forward.” —Miami Herald
One of Oprah’s Best Books of the Year and a PEN/Hemingway award winner, this book walks readers through centuries of African Diaspora and generations of descendants who experienced the aftermath. The story of two half sisters living in 18th century Ghana – who grew up living opposite lives – is one that details a troubled legacy both for those who were sold in the transatlantic slave trade and those who had the good fortune of staying behind. Homegoing is a work of historical fiction that is sure to keep readers wanting to know what’s next.
Looking for something uplifting, about friends or family? As Denise Williams opens this short article with, “Black joy isn’t limited to one genre.” So check out the books below and find some more to add to your reading list!
- Join Rocket as she invites and insists everyone look up and see the comet soaring across the sky, a once-in-a-lifetime sight. The whole family will enjoy this illustrated picture book that encourages dreaming big.
- “After a sudden change of plans, a remarkable woman and her loyal group of friends try to figure out what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.” — Terry McMillan, the bestselling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting to ExhaleLoretha Curry lives a full life. On the eve of her 68th birthday, she has a booming beauty-supply empire, a gaggle of lifelong friends, and a husband whose moves still surprise. Loretha is not one of those women who think her best days are behind her—and she’s determined to prove her mother, her twin sister, and everyone else with that outdated view of aging wrong.
- Struck by tragedy the Strong brothers must decide what to do with their neighborhood knitting business, Strong Knits. Jesse wants to keep the shop open while the other two want to part ways; part-time staff member Kerry knows more about the “knitty-gritty” of the business than Jesse, so offers to help. As the chemistry between Jesse and Kerry builds, both have their own thoughts about how long things will last. “Kwana Jackson combines everything I look for in a story: family, heart, romance; and knits it into the perfect reading experience.” —Farrah Rochon, USA Today bestselling author
- This book kicks off a charming cozy mystery series set in an ice cream shop—with a fabulous cast of quirky characters. And yes, we recognize ‘deadly’ isn’t a term that sparks images of joy, but this cozy mystery about Bronwyn and her goal to restore her family’s ice cream shop to its former glory is about family, friendship, and solving the crime. “With a host of quirky friends and family members, Abby Collette’s new series is a welcome addition to the cozy mystery scene, and life at Crewse Creamery promises plenty of delectable adventures to come. Only one warning: A Deadly Inside Scoop causes a deep yearning for scoops of homemade ice cream, no matter the weather.” —Juliet Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author of the Haunted Home Renovation series and the Witchcraft Mystery series
- Liz has grand plans to attend the prestigious Pennington College and leave small town Campbell, Indiana. But when her financial aid falls through she is crushed, until she remembers her school offers scholarships for the Prom King & Queen – so she decides to put herself out there even though she hates the spotlight. Author Leah Johnson is a bestselling writer, editor, educator, and eternal Midwesterner. She is a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow whose work has been featured in BuzzFeed, Refinery29, Teen Vogue, and Autostraddle among others.
Podcasts to Listen
- Genre: News and Culture
- On Pod Save the People, organizer and activist DeRay Mckesson explores news, culture, social justice, and politics with analysis by Sam Sinyangwe, Kaya Henderson and De’Ara Balenger.This weekly podcast drops a new episode every Tuesday and features one-on-one interviews with experts, influencers, and diverse local and national leaders, like John Legend, Nancy Pelosi, Katy Perry, Edward Snowden and Cory Booker. When asked about the podcast’s purpose, Mckessen said: “It is about creating space for conversation about the most important issues of the week. It is also about making sure people have the information they need to be the most thoughtful activists and organizers.” With a unique perspective on the news and a special focus on overlooked stories and topics that often impact people of color, this show gives it’s listeners the tools and sources they need to start making a difference.If you’re looking for the stories you don’t hear on the news, and broad discussion with input from all sides, this is the podcast for you. You can listen to Pod Save the People on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher.
- Genre: Society
- Hosted by journalists of color, this podcast tackles the subject of race head on. Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby take a deep dive into race and how it impacts every part of society – from politics and history to pop culture and sports and everything in between. “We’re talking to people who have been marginalized and underrepresented for so long, who are so hungry to see themselves represented fully and with nuance and complexity,” says Shereen Marisol Meraji, co-host of Code Switch. Named Show of the Year for 2020, this weekly podcast launched in 2016 but truly took form in 2020, a historical and transformative year. Meraji and Demby use frank one-on-one discussions to discuss issues of racial, ethnic and cultural identity, and are able to bring their own perspectives to a broad audience. “There are certain lenses that we are bringing into, both as journalists and the people that we’re bringing to these stories,” Demby says. “But also, we are specific people with specific fascinations and broad curiosity. If we’re telling these stories, you should assume that they’re going to look and sound like us.” If you’re into deep discussion on important topics surrounded by witty banter, check out CODE SWITCH on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and NPR One.
- Genre: Society and Culture
- The Stoop is a podcast about blackness, race, and identity in America, hosted by Leila Day and Hana Baba. Day is a Senior Producer at Pineapple Street Media and is the Executive Producer The Stoop Podcast. Her work garnered national and local recognition and awards, and in 2015 she was the recipient of the USC Annenberg Reporting on Health Journalism Fellowship for her reporting on mental healthcare in black communities. Baba is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist with over 20 years of experience in radio. Both a celebration of blackness and a mission to dig deeper into stories that don’t get enough coverage, this podcast features conversations about what it means to be black and how we talk about blackness. Discovery Pods said this about The Stoop: “As a non-Black listener, each episode of The Stoop is like being lucky enough to learn something new about a different culture.” You can listen to The Stoop on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and their website.
- Genre: History
- If you’re a history buff who wants to gain new context and understand the legacy of slavery in the United States, 1619 is for you. Over 400 years ago, the first slave ship landed on American shores. In 2019, the New York Times launched the 1619 project. This wide-ranging series included a podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones that tells that story through narrative, archival audio and essay-like observations. According to 1619’s podcast description, “no aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is time to tell the story.” With insights from some of the New York Times best writers, including Pulitzer-winning critic Wesley Morris in the third episode, “The Birth of American Music,” this podcast examines the long shadow of American slavery. Listen to the story now on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.
- Genre: Society and Culture
- The title of this podcast tells you all you need to know: if you have to ask if something is racist, it probably is. Hosts Andrew Ti and Tawny Newsome answer listener-submitted voicemails about whether or not something is, in fact, racist. Ti and Newsome offer a comedic tone without diminishing the validity of these topics – like whether you should own Tiki decor or if you ought to get a tattoo of a phrase in a language you don’t speak removed. These questions lead to refreshingly blunt conversations about race and are backed by the duo’s witty banter. For a lighter take on these hot-button issues, check out Yo, is this racist? on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify.
- Genre: Society & Culture
- Doing the whole podcast thing before Serial hit the scene (yes, you read that right!), Ann and Amina call CYG an OG podcast. Long-distance friendships are so relatable, especially during these pandemic days, that episodes will literally leave you wanting to call your girlfriend and chat through the latest happenings in your own lives. Teaching the world about Shine Theory, these friends truly push each other to be their best selves – something we hope AOIIs do daily. If you’re ready to listen in to their conversations and feel like a part of the girl gang, head over to Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher!
- Genre: Comedy
- Do you know what Gayle & Oprah, Beyoncé & Kelly, and Nicole & Sasheer have in common? You guessed it – they’re all BFFs! We all have at least one person we consider our best friend (lucky in AOII we might have a few!) who we tell our deep secrets to and can be really blunt with. Join Nicole and Sasheer for their podcast where topics range from very important tooth-brushing techniques to experiencing the pandemic and more. Available on Apple on Stitcher.
- Genre: Society & Culture
- Every Thursday ESSENCE Editorial Directors Cori Murray and Charli Penn sit down to interview celebrities, chat about pop culture, and provide an unapologetic perspective on whatever the topic may be. If you’re ready to sit back with your favorite beverage and enjoy a ‘Black Girl Magic’ happy hour, this podcast is for you! ESSENCE Communications is the number one media, technology and commerce company dedicated to Black women and inspires a global audience of more than 20 million through diverse storytelling and immersive original content. With a magazine, festival, and their digital footprint, ESSENCE provides programming and content for African American-related news, entertainment and community. Available on Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher.
Films to Watch
- Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
- Written by: Audrey Wells and Angie Thomas
- Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby
- This film is an adaptation of Angie Thomas’ bestselling novel of the same name by director George Tillman Jr. It tells the story that is sadly familiar to many Black people: after being pulled over by police, Black teenager Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) is a witness to the murder of her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by a white police officer. The film is shown from the perspective of Starr, a young Black Teenager, and showcases her life in the aftermath of this horrific event. It features reflection on the Black Lives Matter Movement, Code Switching and more. Available on Amazon Prime Video.
- Directed by: Ava DuVernay
- Written by: Paul Webb
- Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey
- Selma showcases a three-month period in 1965 in which Martin Luther King Jr. led a campaign to secure historic voting rights for African-Americans in Selma, AL. While showcasing the state of the U.S. in 1965, it also brings to light the issues and systematic racism still felt throughout the U.S. today. “But while Selma makes sure to spotlight King’s oratory skills, attention is also paid to the supporters who aided him in his battle for civil rights. They are right by his side during the peaceful march on Edmund Pettus Bridge, a beautifully choreographed sequence that becomes more and more horrifying to watch when the police attack,” (Empire, 2020.) Available on Hulu.
- Directed by: Raoul Peck
- Written by: James Baldwin and Raoul Peck
- Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin
- This film was awarded Best Documentary Oscar nomination before it opened nationwide on February 3. It draws its inspiration from novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet, James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, intended to be a personal recollection of friends, the civil-rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—all of whom were assassinated within five years of each other. Available on Netflix.
- Directed by: Ava DuVernay
- Written by: Spencer Averick, Ava DuVernay
- Starring: Melina Abdullah, Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker
- “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” –Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This heart wrenching documentary focuses on institutionalized racism in the United States, and brings to light the disproportionate placement of African Americans in prison. Director Ava DuVernay interviews activists, scholars and many more in order to provide the full picture for viewers to better understand the blatant issues in the U.S. prison system. Available on Netflix.
- Directed by: Barry Jenkins
- Written by: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
- Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes
- This film won three Oscars and along with hundreds of other wins and nominations. It reflects the “conflicted and fluid masculinity” of young African-American men in the United States. The film is divided into three chapters, “Little,” “Chiron” and “Black” the three names used to refer to the same person that we follow from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. It starts with him as a boy and then a man who has trouble figuring out his place in the world. This film follows the character’s life and helps the viewer to deeply understand the inter feelings and emotions of the main protagonist. Available on Netflix.
This PopSugar article showcases 28 movies throughout the 1990s and 2000s (other than the classic movie, The Wiz) that celebrate Black culture and display Black joy. We encourage you to take some time to scroll through and find a few to watch throughout the month to join us in honoring and celebrating Black culture, excellence and joy. Some that we would recommend are:
- Directed by: Pete Docter & Kemp Powers
- Written by: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers & Mike Jones
- Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey & Graham Norton
- Joe Gardner is a middle school teacher with a love for jazz music. After a successful gig at the Half Note Club, he suddenly gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body and is transported to the You Seminar, a center in which souls develop and gain passions before being transported to a newborn child. Joe must enlist help from the other souls-in-training, like 22, a soul who has spent eons in the You Seminar, in order to get back to Earth. Available on Disney+.
- Directed by: Charles Stone III
- Written by: Shawn Schepps & Tina Gordon
- Starring: Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana & Orlando Jones
- A band director recruits a Harlem street drummer to play at a Southern university. Initially floundering in his new world, he then realizes that it takes more than talent to reach the top. Available on HBO Now.
- Directed by: Brian Robbins
- Written by: Dan Schneider, Kevin Kopelow & Heath Seifert
- Starring: Kel Mitchell, Kenan Thompson & Sinbad
Two teenagers are working at a local fast food restaurant just think they’ll be flipping burgers – until a new restaurant opens right across the street jeopardizing everything. The unlikely pairing stops at nothing to get what they want, performing absurd antics and forging a real friendship throughout. Available on Netflix.
- Directed by: Wayne Wang
- Written by: Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman
- Starring: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J & Timothy Hutton
- Upon learning of a terminal illness, a shy woman decides to sell off all her possessions and live it up at a posh Central-European hotel. Available for purchase through various platforms.
- Directed by: Sidney Lumet
- Written by: L. Frank Baum, William F. Brown & Joel Schumacher
- Starring: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson & Nipsey Russell
- A retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz through the lens of contemporary Black culture, this film features the legendary likes of Michael Jackson and Diana Ross at the peak of their careers. Ross’s Dorothy is a Harlem teacher whisked away to Oz while trying to save her dog from a storm. Upon arrival, she’s told that the only way to get home is to meet the Wiz, played by Richard Pryor. Much like the original, Dorothy’s journey is made much more interesting when she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Available on Showtime and DirectTV.