Joe Jones

As I began to celebrate Black History Month in February, I was reminded of a memorable event that occurred during my work life.

In the mid 1990’s, my employer initiated a Heritage Day Celebration event. It was very well received. Employees with Irish, Italian, German and several other ethnic backgrounds, shared food and historical knowledge from their offices or cubicles, as they were dressed in outfits celebrating their culture. I wore my grandest African garb. I was unaware at the time that I was a descendant of the Igbo people from Nigeria, and that my African outfit actually was an agbada, a form of Nigerian dress wear.

My colleagues seemed interested in the information I gave them about Africa in general, and about the great empires such as The Songhai, in particular. Most of my associates marveled at my very sharp Nigerian agbada, and they were very attentive during my very basic presentations on the continent of Africa. There were a few however that showed no interest in learning anything at all that contradicted what they already knew about Africans from watching Tarzan movies.

They showed appreciation for the outfits worn by folks with European ancestry, yet they must have assumed it was nothing more than good natured ribbing to yell “Hey Kunta” as they walked pass my office, or when they saw me in the hallways dressed in full African regalia. This kind of attitude and disrespect for a culture led to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. Learning and identifying with the history and culture that brought civilization to the Western world is gratifying and makes us feel good, but how could the lack of knowledge and lack of the appreciation of culture have possibly contributed to brutality and death at the hands of the police?

During a yearlong research project with the Philadelphia Urban League Leadership Institute in 1995, I studied the work and writings of Dr. Charles Finch, Dr. Kenneth Stamp, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, and Dr. Edward Robinson. Dr. Robinson loaned me the results of a controlled study done by his Afro Genesis organization that confirmed the theories of the scientist and historians I had studied.

His study presented quantitative evidence that showed a decrease in behavioral issues and a dramatic increase in the academic performance of young people when they have knowledge and affinity for their culture.

My interview with Dr. Robinson, on the day I returned his research material ended with him asking, “Okay, Mr. Jones, what did you learn from this material? My response spoke to the importance of our children knowing our true history as a way of improving self-esteem and academic performance.

To my surprise, he responded “Yes, that’s critically important, but every Jewish child knows 4,000 years of his history, and it didn’t stop Hitler from killing them. It is also important for people of other cultures to understand and appreciate your culture.” When your history and culture is unknown by you and unappreciated by others, you are not fully valued as a human being. If others are unable or unwilling to see the humanity in you, then it’s never too difficult to kneel on your neck until you die, shoot you in the back, or beat you with night sticks and make jokes as you lay dying.

It saddens me to say that Black History Month 2023, finds us in a war with those who would deny us the opportunity to love our history and culture by denying us the education of our history and culture.

The current war on “wokeness” also lessens the opportunity for other cultures to learn and respect Black Culture. Even in this current culture war environment, I remain confident in victory because of the people in organizations like the AACS. Your head, your hands and your wallet are now more than just very important. They just may be a matter of life and death. Let’s get to work!

Joesph T. Jones – President African American Cultural Society