By Adrienne Gaffney
It’s not an understatement to describe the events of the past year as historic, and particularly for Black Americans. The nation elected its first Black vice president, a woman and a graduate of a historically Black university, and Georgia send its first Black senator to the Capitol. (Both of these realities were possible through the tireless organizing efforts of women like Stacey Abrams of Fair Fight and LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter.)
This period also had Black Americans experiencing disproportionate deaths and job losses from Covid-19, police brutality and myriad race-fueled attacks. The killing of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody, ushered in a period of collective reckoning — one that prompted widespread protests, a push for racial justice and a re-examination of the education system’s failure to teach the accurate history of Black and Indigenous people.
As Black History Month kicks off, there may not be a physical coming together, but there are numerous cultural events in which to take part.
‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ and ‘One Night in Miami’
This awards season brings us two celebrated films from Black directors about pivotal moments in history. Shaka King’s “Judas and the Black Messiah” focuses on the rise in power of the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), and the betrayal that led to his death at the hands of the F.B.I. The directorial debut of Regina King, “One Night in Miami” is centered on the night of Cassius Clay’s famed upset of Sonny Liston in 1964, making Clay (before he became known as Muhammad Ali) the heavyweight champion of the world. The film also imagines a meeting among Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, during which they have a heated debate about the civil rights movement. “Judas and the Black Messiah” is in select theaters Feb. 12 and streaming on HBO Max; “One Night in Miami” is currently in select theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime.
‘Men of Change: Taking It to the Streets’ exhibition by the Anacostia Community Museum, Washington
An exploration and celebration of world-changing African-American men, both famous and not so, was designed for the gallery of the Anacostia Community Museum before health considerations caused it to be revamped for the outdoors. Now, the exhibition graces two blocks in the Deanwood neighborhood, between a recreational center and Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. “Men of Change” explores American history through the contributions of figures like James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ryan Coogler. A virtual panel for the exhibition’s opening moderated by CNN’s Omar Jimenez will discuss how Black men embrace creativity amid systemic racism. Jimenez will be joined by Dr. Rob Gore, who started the youth empowerment movement Kings Against Violence Initiative (and who is also featured in the exhibition), the architect Jonathan Jackson and the artist Tariku Shiferaw. Feb. 1-May 31, 4800 Meade St., NE, Washington, D.C.; opening panel discussion, Feb. 6, 1pm .
‘The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made HipHop’
The author and journalist Clover Hope’s enthralling book gives female architects of hip-hop their long awaited dues. The stories of Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill and Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes are highlighted, alongside less-celebrated heroes like MC Lyte and Roxanne Shanté. Hope gives tremendous context to the contributions of the multitalented Black women who were all too often denied the credit they deserved. Greenlight Bookstore in New York will be holding a Feb. 3 book lopening featuring Hope, the illustrator Rachelle Baker and the music journalist Briana Younger.
Flowering Forest: A Tree Tribute to John Lewis
The death of Representative John Lewis in July was a tremendous loss to both his city, Atlanta, and the legacy of the civil rights movement, of which he was a longtime hero — Lewis was just 25 when he was beaten at a voting rights march in Selma, Ala. Atlanta will be honoring him in Freedom Park with a living memorial made up of shrubs, daffodil fields and more than 300 blooming trees. The multiyear project begins Feb. 19 as a three-day volunteer planting project, finishing on the 21st, which was the Lewis’s birthday. The plants are intended to bloom annually around that time, honoring his memory year after year.