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I stand on the shoulders of shaded giants

Reflections on Black History Month
woman with dark curly hair, wearing a white shirt, smiling at camera
Rosemarie Hemmings, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.

I stand on the shoulders of shaded giants. Shoulders that must have been broad to have carried so many and suffered so much. Pressed into the ground beneath their feet, they carried me with heavy breath and sweat from their brows. Heart beats loud and then beats no more. Gone is the shaded flesh but those bones with shoulders strong and broad, continues to carry me. I am taller when I stand on these shoulders, I am stronger when I know the stories of what made those bones live. Give me February the month Fredrick Douglas took his first breath, elevated by Carter G. Woodson as “Negro History Week” and sealed by President Gerald Ford as a month for me to reflect and learn about the stories that makes my shade magnificent.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we should not forget its purpose. A people without knowledge of their history are like scattered leaves waiting for a slight wind to blow them here and there. Black History Month is an opportunity for blacks to re-engage with their history and pay homage to those who did remarkable, courageous and innovative things. Black History Month is also a time for non-blacks to acknowledge and educate themselves about the contributions of blacks in America and around the world.

One of the ways we connect as human beings is through our stories. However, the stories we hear about blacks are often rooted in inferiority, so in order to fill our minds with positive narratives we need to become consciously aware of our strengths and weaknesses. There is no better time than Black History Month to cultivate a positive story about a people who had broad shoulders. Whether it’s learning a historical fact about someone black within your field or another, positive narratives become the stories we can begin to tell ourselves about each other as a greater respect for our shared humanity unfolds.

Rosemarie Hemmings, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is a licensed social worker and social work manager at OHSU’s Care Management Department. 

Here are some interesting facts on black Americans to begin building those positive stories:

  1. The first Inoculation in America, which occurred in Boston during the smallpox outbreak (1721), was based on a procedure described by a slave named Onesimus.
  2. Dr. Charles Richard Drew was responsible for America’s first blood bank and introduced bloodmobiles
  3. Patricia Bath Black was the first African-American female physician to receive a medical patent when she invented the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment in 1986.
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