An Open Letter Reflection on Black History Month

During Black History Month, while not intentional, it can be easy to only reflect only on the names of a select few distinguished individuals that have contributed to the forward progress of African Americans in this country. As someone that works in politics, as well as a student of history, I find myself reflecting on the accomplishments of the unsung heroes that were political trailblazers and might not be readily on the tips of our tongues.

The way was paved for people like myself and others by John Mercer Langston, the first African Americans to hold elective office in the United States, starting as an Ohioan township clerk in 1855 and eventually becoming the first black man to represent Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives. Even, Minnie Buckingham Harper, who was the first African American woman to serve in any state legislature in 1928.

Credit: Lost Angeles Wave Newspaper

If I fast forward to our current generation, I think about Karen Bass, who was the first African American woman to serve as speaker of any state lower house in 2008.

She was followed by Andrea Stewart-Cousins who was the first African American woman to serve as speaker of any state upper house in 2019.

There is a debt of gratitude that is owed to local and grassroots giants like Adam Clayton Powell and Barbara Jordan.

Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries

Powell was elected to the New York City Council as the New York City’s first black Council member. He served as a national spokesman on civil rights and social issues. He also urged United States presidents to support emerging nations in Africa and Asia as they gained independence after colonialism.

Barbara Jordan was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. It is timely to note that she eloquently provided opening statements during the impeachment process against Richard Nixon.

For some, Black History Month is only a glance into the past and not a recognition of the vast numbers of African American giants/heroes that are currently in our midst. I would submit that the giants of our past have created a platform for the heroes that are among us today.

Heroes like NDTC alum Lauren Underwood, or other newcomer gladiators like Stacey Abrams, Lucy McBath Ayanna Pressley, or the likes of A’shanti Gholar, Karine Jean-Pierre, Stephanie Brown James, Reggie Hubbard, Maya Rupart, Quentin James, Muthoni Wambu Kraal, and Symone Sanders.

This idea is a core objective of why the work that I do at the National Democratic Training Committee is so important. Each weekend, each day, that we seek to train Democrats to run for office and work on a campaign, there is the distinct chance we may be training the next hero/giant that will go down in the history books, seen or unseen that will do the work of promoting justice and equality for all. I have often said, all heroes don’t wear capes, but we all stand on the shoulders, and owe a debt of gratitude, to those, not only during one month of the year but for every month, day, and second that we proclaim to advance the mission of liberty and justice for all.

Let us not forget, we didn’t get there on our own, but we stand on the shoulders of giants that have opened, or even knocked down a door, that gives us the ability to do the work that we do.

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Anthony Robinson

Anthony has over 17 years of experience leading teams across diverse public and private organizations. He’s skilled in program development and implementation, team leadership, exchange facilitation, and partnership building. Anthony previously served as the Director of Training and Public Engagement with Truman National Security Project, where he was responsible for designing, organizing, and conducting a number of progressive issues and policy-based trainings and briefings for policymakers, military leaders, civic and political leaders. Prior to Truman, he served as a White House appointee during the Obama Administration in several national security policy roles. Anthony is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and has a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University. Additionally, he is a candidate for an MA in Global Policy degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a 2019-2020 Marshall Memorial Fellow.