A Collection of Literature for Black History Month
By reading literature from the past, we can help make our future better.
The 2017 theme for Black History Month is “The Crisis in Education.” Even though racially separated schools are illegal, many urban neighborhoods that are predominantly African-American still have a crisis in education. Schools are underfunded and overcrowded and fail to deliver substantive opportunities. These gaps have to be addressed to ensure all children have the opportunity to change the world. Take some time to read one of these great books for Black History Month to understand how these artists have made a different in literature.
Literature Based on the Harlem Renaissance
- “The Collected Poems” by Langston Hughes
Explore the works of one poet in this collection. Hughes was a writer in the early 20th century who received many awards that allowed him to travel and write. He is a lyrical poet and considered one of the fathers of “jazz poetry.” As a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, he is an influential American who had a way with words.
- “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston was a contemporary of Hughes. She experienced literary success in the 1920s, leading her to be an influential figure during the Harlem Renaissance. This novel is considered her masterwork, but at the time it was published, in 1937, it was poorly received.
- “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by James Baldwin
This novel, Baldwin’s first, is an autobiographical story of his life as a teenager during the Harlem Renaissance. He draws heavily on the language of the King James Bible and makes several references to stories in the Bible, which are important to his culture. The Church has both positive and negative influences in this classic.
Other Reading Material for Black History Month
- “The 100 Best African American Poems” edited by Nikki Giovanni
Giovanni put together this collection of great poetry that celebrates the African-American heritage. It’s probably the best compendium for readers to get a taste of poetry from the lens of the Black poet.
- “Native Son” by Richard Wright
Although “Native Son” may seem like a trope of the classic story of an African-American man who kills a white woman, Wright never attempts to justify the behavior; he just explains how it was inevitable. It’s about poverty, fear, fate and free will.
- “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Ellison’s novel is a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, that discusses many of the social and political issues of the 20th century that affected black men. Time magazine called it more than a race novel, naming the book as one of the top-100 Best Novels from 1923 to 2005
- “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” by Frederick Douglass
There’s probably no other memoir that has been as influential on the abolition of slavery than this one. Even if you don’t enjoy reading, this novel should be on your must-read list as a story of what it was like in the 19th century for a black man.
- “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead writes about a literal “underground railroad” that slaves can take to freedom. This novel, which has won awards, reimagines what we know about the stories of the South. It’s a grim and realistic look at slavery during the Civil War.
Learn From the Past
In order to understand the future, we have to understand history. Knowing the civil rights issues that the African-American faced in the past helps us ensure that our country never returns to that place. Maya Angelou said, “It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.”
World Day Against Child Labour
Child Brides, Child Trafficking and Child Slavery are at an alarming rate.
Child brides and marriages have been in the news lately. In Canada, the age of consent is 18 or 19 in most jurisdictions, but with parental or court permission, an individual as young as 16 can get married. The situation is much similar in the U.S., although a few states do have laws to allow individuals as young as 13 to get married. In those cases, court and parental consent are required. Internationally, child brides are considered a bigger problem, largely due to the fact that these young girls have no say in their fate. Girls around the world do not have the same protections that girls in North America do. The United Nations hopes to change that.
No to Child Labour; Yes to Education
One of the most basic rights for each individual is education. It’s just as important as health, food, safety and shelter. Some countries do not educate their girls or only provide education to a certain age. The International Labour Organization estimates that about 168 million children around the world work instead of going to school or playing. About 120 million of these children are aged 5–14. Many of these children work full-time in deplorable and hazardous conditions. Some have been forced into the workforce because of human trafficking or slavery.
In 1919, the ILO was born, mostly out of the need to end child labour around the world. The ILO has actually been making progress. The goal was to end child labour by 2016, but there’s still work to be done. The ILO actually recognizes the importance of social dialogue in the fight to end child labour in production and manufacturing.
Awareness in the Present
The 2016 World Day to End Child Labour is on June 12. The focus this year is to end child labour in supply chains. A supply chain is the sequence of activities that leads to distribution or the production of goods. Stereotypically, most people think of children sewing clothes, but child labourers work in many other industries, from fishing to mining.
The ILO recommends effective governance as one of the keystones against child labour. Individually, there’s even more that can be done. Here are some recommendations:
- Get educated. The Institute for Humane Education is one place to get started. The ILO has a number of resources as well.
- Buy fair trade products. There are a number of labels, Fair Trade Certified, Goodweave and Fairtrade Mark.
- Talk to retailers about where they are buying their products. Ask them to make sure they are using responsible suppliers and distributors. You have the right to ask about the origin of the product you’re buying. You may need to dig deep and go to the manufacturer to get information.
- If you are a stakeholder in a business, make sure your organization is supporting businesses that don’t use child labour.
- Talk about the social injustices with others who can make a difference in their own circles.
Making a Difference
Don’t think that your small business won’t make a difference by buying responsibly. In India, the tent dealers association stopped 80 child marriages in Rajasthan, India by simply asking to see the birth certificates of the brides and grooms before renting a tent for their wedding. By coming together and making a stand, these businesses are changing their country.
Join the campaign to stop child labour. On June 12, the UN and ILO have arranged a number of activities in countries around the world. Ask your government officials to start thinking about next year and what you can do in your community to make a difference for children everywhere. The little girl next door to you may not have to worry about going to work, but in many countries, there are little girls and boys who are.