Commentary: Black Pride?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jao’Torey K. Johnson
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Thinking back to my childhood, there was never a time I can recall being proud of my dark skin. It felt more like an undeserved rap sheet than an indication of racial distinction. Is that a strange thing to say? It’s my truth. I wasn’t taught, nor did I grow up seeing, anything that inspired pride in being Black.

I think people overlook the importance of having leaders, role models, and heroes that resemble you. I often wonder about the pride a young white child may have felt in grade school as historical figures such as Christopher Columbus were revered as great explorers. I wonder how empowering it was for a child of Spanish descent to sit through lessons on the life and adventures of Francisco Pizarro. I imagine those individuals sat with their heads held as high as I held mine when eventually school teachings took us to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his activism. Maybe even as high as I held my head with my chest out as I marched around Misawa’s Black History Month Museum in the Misawa Air Base O’Club Ballroom, Feb. 5, 2021.

My 5th grade teacher was the first person that taught me about the history of Africans in America. Imagine being one of two Black children in a class of nearly 30 as an elderly white woman stands at the front of the room and discusses how powerful white men humiliated, enslaved, and tortured the helpless victims from which you are descended. A near unfathomable level of humiliation rises as eyes creep toward you and dart away avoiding the return of your gaze.

The memory of that situation filled me with emotions as I explored the many displays of Misawa’s first Black History Month Museum.

The different squadrons at Misawa were encouraged to research and present information on an African American who contributed to their respective career fields. Some of the display creators stood with their projects and imparted knowledge to attendees that journeyed through the museum.

Children from the base schools also contributed with poster boards and projects covered in art and facts about historical Black figures ranging from Tupac Shakur to Thurgood Marshall.

I felt so much of the shame from my childhood dissipate as I read each display detailing the glory of Jesse Owens, the genius of Garrett Morgan, and the scientific contributions of Henrietta Lacks amongst other influential figures who shaped history and today’s society.

Years following that embarrassing day in my 5th grade class have elevated my perspective on the education of history. While I eventually received the heroes that resembled me, I came to notice that they came in a particular form. Dr. King was touted for his peaceful ideology. Rosa Parks was praised for her non-violent boycotts. Though, it was irreverent to idolize a figure like Malcolm X who sought the same social equality. I began to doubt the candor of mainstream Black history education, and eventually, I grew to realize self-education on African American contributions throughout history was instrumental in reshaping my own self-image.

I’m not sure I can overstate the importance and impact of events like Misawa’s Black History Month Museum. At this time, I’m the vice president of the African American Heritage Association, so I participated in all phases of the event from planning to final teardown. While I hoped for a successful event, I didn’t believe it would be as wonderful as it turned out. During a time of pandemic and social distancing, the participation and engagement from the community far exceeded my expectations.

Walking around the venue I had the opportunity to glimpse at some of the numerous impacts African Americans have had on various occupations. Even more special was witnessing the chosen subjects and facts on the children’s projects. It was reassuring to see that today’s youth seem less limited in their knowledge of the influences from the Black community than I was just over a decade ago. Admittedly, I learned more than I anticipated from the children’s work.

I didn’t foresee the changes that occurred within myself at Misawa’s first Black History Month Museum, but I’m glad it happened. In that room, I watched people from different races and cultures show interest, and at times excitement, in learning about historical figures that resembled me. In that room, I listened to the giddy chatter of children as they marveled at some of the displays honoring Black history. In that room, I was instilled with a much greater pride to be Black.