Published: Feb. 7, 2022

In 1900, brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson combined their creative expertise with their commitment to Black struggle and Black joy and wrote: “​​Lift every voice and sing/Till earth and heaven ring/Ring with the harmonies of Liberty….”

Their work became a common thread for many Blacks and African Americans. More than 120 years later, the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” is widely recognized as the Black national anthem. 

When I paused to think about Black History Month—recognizing that, as someone who is neither Black nor African American, it is a luxury to pause in contemplation of Black history—I could not help but reflect on this powerful national anthem. It’s no surprise that it is experiencing a profound resurgence. If you haven’t followed this piece of Black history, the 122-year-old song was part of Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella performance and was integrated into the opening week of the 2020 NFL season. President Biden invoked it in his 2020 presidential campaign.

These individual moments are connected as small parts of a much longer history—one that should not be contained to one month. It’s an important history, not just because it is central to what it means to be African American, but also because it contains lessons for all of us.

As Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in CMCI, I spend a good bit of time thinking about what it means for our community to recognize and participate in the many months and days of recognition. Too often, we engage Black History Month in performative ways, maybe even congratulating ourselves for our commitment and “woke-ness.” Then in March too many of us go back to business as usual, which typically means ignoring Black history, Black presence, and the everyday anti-Black racism that pervades all of U.S. society. 

This year, let’s do something less usual. Let’s meet at the crossroads that Black History Month should produce. The month rightly calls attention to the mostly-invisible histories of African Americans, those that have never been just African American history. These histories have always been U.S. history. 

The story told in “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is the story of hardship and struggle. It is a tale of exhaustion, violence and dehumanization. It is also a narrative of resilience, survival and joy. This month, I invite you to listen, again and again, to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Find as many performances by as many different artists as possible. And when you hear the lyrics name the “harmonies of liberty” and “our native land,” pause and remember Black struggle and Black joy, Black brilliance and Black artistry, Black history as U.S. history, Black presence and citizenship. 

And then on March 1, continue the work. Follow the frightening spate of bomb threats currently being made against Black intellectual centers. Read or reread authors such as Zora Neal Hurston, Toni Morrison or Amanda Gorman. Revisit the work of Frederick Douglas, W. E. B. DuBois or James Baldwin. Listen to Black Violin.

Refuse to contain Black history to just one month.

Lisa Flores, PhD
Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Co-Chair, CU Boulder IDEA Council