Ah, Black History Month. That wonderful time of the year when the African-American experience is held up for all to regard and appreciate. Of course, it can be nothing but positive that schoolchildren across the country hear names such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman for the first time; and it’s wonderful that many large corporations and media outlets use time to highlight the accomplishments of African-Americans and to increase their own involvement in our community. For the 40 million of us who live the Black experience every day, however, we often wonder: How can we further the mission and message of Dr. Martin Luther King and the men and women who refused to yield to the bigotry of the time?
This topic has been on my mind for a while now because of an incident that happened to me on Twitter. I like to tweet holiday greetings, and a few months ago, I sent an “Eid Mubarak” message out to the international Muslim community, in commemoration of the day when they break their Ramadan fast. Immediately, the number of my Twitter followers started to decline; I lost more than 30 people in about a half hour. But when I sent out a subsequent tweet blasting the closed-mindedness of those unfollowing me, an extraordinary thing happened: People of all religions from around the world chimed in with their support, and I ended up gaining 200 like-minded followers. As I write this, the home-improvement store Lowe’s has come under criticism for yielding to the pressure of Florida Family Association and canceling its ad schedule on a television program called All-American Muslim, a program that is, ironically, meant to showcase how Muslims in this country are just like everyone else. Russell Simmons stepped up and into the fray by not only loudly protesting Lowe’s actions, but by also putting his money where his mouth was and buying all the ad space that Lowe’s had dropped for the following week.
As I see it, the spirit of this special month is less about introducing America at large to the trials and triumphs of our people and more about continuing the battle against prejudice and intolerance. Anyone who’s known me more than five minutes knows that the only thing I don’t tolerate is intolerance— of any ethnicity, religion, sexual preference. Racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and yes, Islamophobia, are antithetical to my core philosophy: No one of us can claim to be better than anyone else, and it is impossible to judge an entire group by the actions of a few of its members. This is what Dr. King was fighting for and what I believe we have to advocate for today.
This year, I’m going to celebrate Black History Month by making sure I uphold the principles of those who fought to claim the freedoms we have today—and by honoring heroes such as Russell Simmons who fight intolerance, regardless of how hard or unpopular the cause. Open your hearts and minds, respect your neighbors even if they are different from you, be the change you want to see in the world.
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