- - Sunday, January 31, 2016

In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In it, he explains the hierarchy of needs, which he proposes are stages of growth required by humans to obtain a self-actualized state, which is the achievement of an individual’s highest potential. The first two layers include physiological needs related to air, water, food, shelter and sleep. The second layer includes security needs related to personal, financial and health security. The third layer on Maslow’s hierarchy is the fulfillment of a sense love and belonging. Belonging is the need to feel part of a larger community, which includes family, friends and colleagues. Many find this sense by participating in clubs, religious groups, professional organizations or even as a fan for a professional sports team.

The need to belong, and the need for love, respect and acknowledgement within the community is strong rationale for the participation in Black History Month. As teachers, religious leaders and companies begin celebrations across the country for Black History Month, there are some who find the commemorations harmful or unnecessary. Many feel that isolating the contributions of one group to a single month further marginalizes them. A decade ago, actor Morgan Freeman commented on the news program “60 minutes,” “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” There are others who find the celebration insular because they do feel part of the history of African diaspora and feel isolated. Ironically, the same desire and need for belonging and acceptance in the community Maslow references appears to create a sense of opposition and dissent in the celebration of Black History Month. Still, other groups have followed suit, as there are heritage months dedicated to Irish-Americans, Jewish Americans, Hispanic- and Puerto Rican-Americans, as well as gays and lesbians.

If examining this holiday through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it appears a debate is futile. What is the goal of ending the celebrations related to the contributions of a minority group? It will only further detach a group of people whose sole reason to celebrate the month in the first place is to aid in closing the gap in belonging. It frequently exists when individuals considered a minority, either by ancestry, a lack of personal choice, political unrest or the desire for a better life, search for their place in society. British writer Zadie Smith addresses the danger in giving up the search for belonging within a community in her debut novel, “White Teeth.” One of her characters sadly declares, “Then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie … and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter?”

If a sense of belonging is as important as water, food and shelter, than this month is not only needed, it is essential. And it requires the participation of all citizens, regardless of ancestry.

February is the month strongly associated with love and belonging. In that spirit, utilize this month to discover the scientists, poets, politicians and artists from all over the globe that celebrate the soul of Black History Month. Minorities often feel a sense of separation and isolation from their past, and it is important to cultivate a sense of belonging. Initially this can be done by finding those individuals whose contributions have inspired, encouraged and motivated others all over the world. The backgrounds and experiences of these individuals are deeply rich and varied. For example, Dany Laferriere is a Haitian-Canadian novelist born in 1953. He immigrated to Canada at the age of twenty-three, and three years ago was elected to the French Academy, which is a prominent council regarding matters pertaining to the French language. Mr. Laferriere became the first Haitian, the first Canadian and the first Quebecer to receive this distinction.

Instead of examining their achievements for only a month, allow this month to act as a catalyst for the other 11 months out of the year. Study their habits, and use their lives as evidence of the potential for achievement. Astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson has worked tirelessly to educate the public on science-related events. He once commented “If the only time you think of me as a scientist is during Black History Month, then I must not be doing my job as a scientist.”

It may take a lifetime to develop an identity and contextualize this within society at large, but it can begin with the celebration of one month. Happy Black History Month!

Natasha Samuel is a freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. She has written for Men’s Fitness, NationSwell and is currently working on her first book project.

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