To me, Black history month is a month of recognizing and remembering important activist, advocates, inventors, change-makers, and warriors who stood up for justice, human rights, equality, fairness, desegregation, and freedom for African Americans.
My celebration of Black history month not only entails celebrating African Americans who fought for change and impacted the world but also celebrating Nigerians in Nigeria who fought for social justice, equality, and fairness for Nigerians. One of my favorite activists is Fela Anikulapo Kuti who fought against government corruption and police repression and was one the greatest musicians of all time.
I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and moved to Nigeria, West Africa, when I was six years old. I lived in Nigeria for eleven years and it was the most rewarding experience. I saw people who look like me who were kings, queens, lawmakers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, inventors, and the list goes on.
I saw the beauty of the different shades of brown/black skin and the pride in embracing ourselves. I never knew there was racism or did not know what that meant because we were all one color in Nigeria. I moved back to the United States and quickly found out that we all look different, speak differently, have different textures of hair, and different unique attributes that make us all different.
I realized my name was different, “Birikisu,” and it was hard for people to pronounce or people asked for an easier name to pronounce which was strange for me. Every African name has a beautiful meaning and each name is a representation of a tribe in Nigeria. I didn’t quite understand why African Americans and Africans were looked at differently or treated differently in the United States. I assumed we were all treated equally and embraced each other like I was accustomed to in Nigeria.
I soon discovered through reading that there has been a history of slavery, racism, oppression, and mistreatment of African Americans. I discovered there were activists like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, and many more who fought against social injustice and made a remarkable impact in the lives of all oppressed people.
Not only were there activists who made a strong impact in our country, but there were inventors like
- Garrett Morgan who invented the three-light traffic light
- Alexander Miles who invented automatic elevator doors
- Lewis Latimer who invented the carbon light bulb filament
- Sarah Boone who improved the ironing board
These inventors paved the way for blacks in science.
My husband and I are raising two beautiful brown girls with cotton candy afro hair and it was important for them to see other black men or women in history who embraced their afro hair. Activists like Angela Davis embraced her Afro and stated, “every Afro was a sign of black power and pride”. Our two brown girls are inspired to embrace their afro hair because it shows their pride, power, and authenticity.
For our family, learning and being engaged in Black history month inspires, educates, challenges, enlightens, encourages, and advocates change. It opens your mind to learning about history and what makes people who don’t look like you unique and special. Embracing diversity and culture brings new ways of thinking, new knowledge, and different experiences.
I encourage you to go to the library and learn about our history, reach out to your neighbor who does not look like you and ask questions, try a traditional meal, have your kids play with other kids who don’t look like them or get involved in local community events that would enlighten you on our history.
Be open-minded and be the change you want to see in this world.
Birikisu Vilmael moved from Miami to Des Moines in 2007. She met her husband in Des Moines and quickly found out they both graduated from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL, they lived about 45 mins away from each other, but met in Des Moines. Biri is from Nigeria and her husband is from Haiti. Biri and her husband incorporate their Afro Caribbean culture while raising their girls. Biri loves cooking African and Caribbean dishes and loves educating her daughters on their heritage. Biri is also a praise and worship leader and loves encouraging people to praise God. Biri believes in impacting her local community and people around her.