The Dark & Light of Black Joy: The Role African-American History Plays

To help bring in and celebrate Black History Month we’ve asked NCMC board director Les Arthur, a former teacher of African-American history, to give us some of his reflections. Please join us in any of our programs this month to inspire your own reflections.

The Dark & Light of Black Joy
The Role African-American History Plays

By Leslie Arthur

“The struggle continues!” This is a statement(1) that our Black Elders during the Civil Rights/Black Power movement used as an important mantra all the time. But why is there a need for constant struggle? And what is the significance of protest and social movements?

When we look to nature we try to understand and study Harmony and Struggle. Both forces are opposites and yet are one in nature. For example, cold as opposed to heat, rest as opposed to movement, dark as opposed to light. We see these actions in our outdoor activities like hiking, forest bathing, cycling, etc.

If we apply the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang to ourselves, we too reflect these forces. Often time with family and friends we give our time, our energy, our ideas, and our efforts, but then there are other times that we receive many positive actions and opportunities. Both reciprocal forces occur in our lives daily.

The efforts to attain human rights for Black and Brown People has been a struggle for hundreds of years. And with opposing forces, conflict must always be met with solutions. A People’s culture and history is just such a solution.

African-American history teaches us how our elders survived the hardships of the transatlantic slave trade. How we fought and emerged from being enslaved and cultivated our own farm land. How we built schools and businesses during the Reconstruction Era. How the Black People organized protests and fought back against structural racism, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. How our constant social movements of the 20th century provided us the energy and wherewithal to pursue the vote, economic opportunities, and avenues for full citizenship.

We are presently, though, facing another backlash as extreme conservative forces fear their conception of “democracy” is fading. If there was ever a time to continue and increase our knowledge of African-American history, it is now. Self-esteem through black aesthetics, beauty inventions, achievements, education, and access to knowledge of how the world works — those solutions to the opposing forces of conflict are rooted in African-American history.

Black history teaches us how we are the change agents that we need to be right now and right here. African-American history gives us Black Joy. It gives us the positive affirmations of culture and shows us that no matter how difficult a situation is, it is possible — as the elders teach us — to “see things, rearrange things, and make some new things for the future.”(2)

1 A luta continua (in English: the struggle continues) was originally the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence.

2 Quote by the late Cliff Carter one of the founders of the Chad School in Newark and a community activist.

Leslie Arthur worked in the NJ Public School System for 30 years teaching African American History, U.S. History, Latin American Culture, and Economics and is a Ph.D. candidate in African American History from Rutgers University. He is also an avid hiker and a certified hiking leader with the Appalachian Mountain Club, which promotes diversity in hiking and outdoor activities.