Black History Month
Ever wonder what it would be like to be someone else – someone whose personality, heritage, worldview, and life experience are completely different from yours?
Good news: you can. One of the public library’s magical powers is transporting you into another person’s shoes. All you have to do is sit back and read.
If you live in Botetourt County, chances are high that you’re not a person of color. According to the 2021 census estimates, Botetourt’s population is 94.1% white or Caucasian, and only 3.3% Black or African-American (the rest are Hispanic or Latino, American Indian and Asian). Given those statistics, it’s safe to assume that most of our local readers have never experienced life as a person of color. As Black History Month comes to a close, we invite you to explore the Black experience through the stories of people who have lived it.
For some context into African-American heritage, step back in time with “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a formerly enslaved man whose personal account in the mid-19th century fueled the abolitionist movement. About a century later, W.E.B. DuBois chronicled his own experience growing up in Massachusetts, studying at Harvard, and traveling abroad in “Dusk of Dawn.”
Few people have shared their story as vividly and powerfully as Maya Angelou, whose autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” projects strength and hope despite a life replete with challenges and injustices. Her ability to experience poverty, violence, and racism while expressing such an energetic zeal for life is nothing short of inspiring.
The same year that Maya Angelou passed away, the talented opera singer Jessye Norman released her own autobiography, “Stand Up Straight and Sing!” Like Angelou, Norman’s confronts the challenges facing her as an African-American artist with honesty, yet her story projects kindness, dignity, optimism, and even joy.
What about the experience of people who moved to the United States later in life? While not an autobiography, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2014 novel “Americanah” clearly incorporates her own experience as a Nigerian immigrant. Self-confident Ifemelu finds academic success in America, yet grapples with realization that the color of her skin could have such a profound impact on her daily life in her new home. Adichie’s story offers a helpful outsider’s perspective on the issues of race in America.
In the 2016 collection “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race,” edited by National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward, multiple essayists describe the African-American experience historically, examine current concerns, and envision a better future. This compilation offers a deeper understanding of the issues we hear in the media every day from a Black perspective.
While each of us can live only our own life, we can vicariously experience multiple lives through the stories of the people who experience the world differently. We invite you to explore the African-American experience with openness, curiosity, and gratitude for what we can learn from their lives and how we can better understand and change the world we live in together.
– Botetourt County Libraries