Our shared journey together continues
- February 8, 2024
- Posted by: Joe Milazzo II
- Category: Blog
February is Black History Month, a celebration of the contributions of African Americans to our nation’s past, present and future. While black history is not separate from American history — this nation would not exist without the leadership, struggles, and sacrifices of African Americans — it is distinct.
Black History Month has its origins in the 1920s, spurred on by the efforts of historian Dr. Carter Woodson that launched a one week event around the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, the signer of the Emancipation Proclamation (born February 12) and Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, orator, writer and former slave, who celebrated his own birthday on February 14 (since he did not precisely know when it was).
The celebration became formalized nearly 50 years ago in 1976 as Black History Month, with February continuing to be the chosen time for the now month-long event. The nation has celebrated the accomplishments of our black ancestors and neighbors every February for nearly five decades.
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It has been said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. I concur, and I also believe that a nation that does not have an increasing sense of shared history will not be able to share a successful future together. All of us have the opportunity to learn and receive strength and inspiration from the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of all of our American ancestors. E pluribus unum — from many, one.
There may come a time when American history is so fully intertwined with the history of black Americans — in other words, a time when we are fully one in our shared journey — that we won’t devote only one month every year to black history, since all 12 months will truly be. To do so will require all of us to honor and respect both the past and the future, in all of its faults and promise.
As Black History Month 2024 continues, one concrete way each of us can help create a more empathetic and authentic sense of our shared history is to celebrate the tremendous contributions, resilience, and inspiration of a great American, Frederick Douglass, on his chosen birthday of February 14. We can all learn more about his story and his efforts to free enslaved Americans — including himself — and to bring our nation closer to our founding ideals. He was a champion of both African American rights and of women’s rights.
In addition to wishing him a happy birthday, perhaps you might also sing or read “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a poem composed a mere five years after Douglass’ death. While he unfortunately never heard it before his passing, if you sing it loud enough I believe he might smile, because it speaks to a journey, struggle, and hope that he would be quite familiar with. The song has stirred the hearts of Americans, and not just black Americans, for more than 100 years. I personally believe this inclusive, inspirational song — which is historical, haunting, and yet hopeful — will be embraced as a national hymn for all Americans in due course.
The song’s powerful lyrics commence with “Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty”; a few stanzas later they include “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun; Let us march on till victory is won”; the song’s last phrases are “May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.”
While the word “love” doesn’t appear in the lyrics, it truly is a song about love. Love of liberty, love of God, love for the efforts and lives of those who have gone before us, and love of the hope for each of us and our nation. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate love on next Wednesday, February 14th, than to sing Lift Every Voice and Sing.
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As I mentioned last year, what does all of this have to do with a business leadership organization on transportation?
Transportation is about building and connecting communities, for today, for tomorrow, and for each of us. Transportation is also about the journey, just like the American experiment itself. Our work as a business leadership group is never done with one project, one initiative, one campaign, or one year or decade. Each of us stands on the shoulders of the greatness of others, and each of us must give back for all of us to go forward. We will never see all of the results of our shared efforts, but we do it anyway, which is an act of love.
I mentioned during our 2024 annual meeting in January that “infrastructure is equity.” I said this because purposeful investments in our mobility infrastructure will benefit everyone — including those who live far from our metropolitan core, as well as those who have not moved here yet, or been born yet. In other words, we must truly build for all.
So, let’s work together, and let’s learn from each other, including our shared history. Let’s make this region a better place than we found it, and let’s help make our nation a more perfect union, together. Happy birthday Frederick Douglass, and thank you for setting the standard and the compass for a better tomorrow for all of us.
Let’s get moving,
Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA executive director
RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation
N.B.: This week’s blog is an amplification of a blog post I wrote last year for the occasion.