Welcome to February! February is Black History Month. The idea of Black History Month came about in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson made it a point to designate a specific time for people to learn more about Black history and celebrate that history, those people, and the rich culture and heritage of the Black community. What started as a week in February 1915 is now a month-long dedication to promote and educate about Black history and the contributions and sacrifices African-American people have made and continue to make to improve and impact the world.

Did you know that every year, the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) delegates a theme for Black History Month? For 2024, the theme is African Americans and the Arts! Art is such an integral piece of the puzzle of our culture, how we express our thoughts and feelings, how we communicate with each other, and how we change and color the world. Art is made every day, and ALL ART IS IMPORTANT. From the coloring pages, you may pick up at the library and adorn with your arrays and varieties of crayon strokes to the songs you may hear in the car to the dances you may perform at recitals to the sculptures and paintings you may see in a museum. It’s all essential to the development of the mind, the heart, and the world. 

For this month, let’s highlight a few African Americans who made their mark on the world by expressing themselves and creating beautiful, timeless art.

Jean Michel-Basquiat (1960-1988)

Jean Michel-Basquiat (1960-1988) was a Black American artist known for his amazingly peculiar neo-Expressionist drawings and paintings. His art was an extension of him, conveying strong Caribbean and African-American characteristics. African and even Aztec imagery and iconography. He was featured on the cover of The New York Times in 1985 with the title “The Marketing of an American Artist.” He is often placed right in line with many other great artists of the 80s, like Andy Warhol, who was his mentor, and Keith Haring. His works are displayed in museums all over the nation. You may even see some of his works on clothing like hoodies, backpacks, and shoes! He is considered one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.

Kehinde Wiley (born 1977)

Kehinde Wiley (born 1977) is a classical artist who combines realism, cultural representation, and historical references into his amazing portraits. His eye for detail and expression is evident in the meticulous and meaningful way he is able to bring these portraits alive. His focus on Black identity and culture captivates anyone who has experienced his artwork and has been groundbreaking in the world of art. His most known work is the portrait of the 44th President Barack Obama in 2018, which he created for the National Portrait Gallery.

Misty Copeland (born 1982)

Misty Copeland (born 1982) is an American ballet dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, one of three of the leading classical ballet cohorts in the world. She shattered the glass ceiling of what a ballerina has always looked like and cemented her place in ballet and dance as a powerhouse. She started ballet at the age of 13, which some would consider “late” in the ballet world. She was living in a motel room with her five siblings. Even with all of these adversities, she overcame these struggles and focused on her love and dream of dancing. Two years after her first dance class, she won first place in the Music Center Spotlight Awards. She went on to study ballet at the San Francisco Ballet School, studied at ABT in their summer intensive, and, in 2001, became a member of the ballet corps at American Ballet Theatre. In 2007, she made history by becoming the company’s second African American female Soloist and the first in two decades. In June 2015, Misty was promoted to principal dancer, making her the first African American woman ever to be promoted to the position in the company’s 75-year history. She fights for diversity in the arts and is revered not only in dance but in Black culture as well.

Jason Reynolds (born 1983)

Jason Reynolds (born 1983) is a bestselling author of many award-winning books, including the Marvel Comics novel Miles Morales: Spiderman in 2017. He was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Oxon Hill, Maryland (about 30 minutes from here!) He started writing poetry when he was younger, using his inspiration from rap and hip-hop. He focused on poetry for years until trying his hand at fiction novels, which led to him publishing his first book, When I Was The Greatest, in 2014. Fun fact: He read his first cover-to-cover novel at the age of 17 and was still able to come out on top and create beautiful art within the stories that he wrote. He has won many awards for his writing, including the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth and Teens in 2017. “Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse,” a film adapted for his Miles Morales character, was released in theaters in 2018 and grossed $384.3 million worldwide against a $90 million budget. “Across the Spiderverse” is the second film surrounding Miles Morales, released in 2023,  and both films have received so much praise and acclaim.

Halle Bailey (born 2000)

Halle Bailey (born 2000) is a talented American singer and actor. She started singing with her sister Chloe when they were young. They started by making YouTube videos of them singing, and that started their rise to fame as the duo Chloe x Halle. Their YouTube covers even got them noticed by Beyonce, who took them under her wing and helped them hone their vocal talent and skill. Chloe x Halle has released two albums, performed on tour with Beyonce, gone on tour themselves as the headliners, and received several Grammy nominations. Both sisters also have acting experience as well. They both have played in the TV show “Grownish” for many seasons as well as small roles in other shows. Halle Bailey, however, truly made her mark in the acting industry when she played the first Disney live-action “Little Mermaid” in 2023. Although the idea of a Black mermaid did not sit so well with everyone, Halle showed her true dedication, talent, and skill, wowed audiences, and broke barriers for Black girls everywhere.

The word “history” makes things seem so far away, doesn’t it? When we think of the word history, we think about the 1800s, or before that…or maybe even the 1900s. We think of a time with no cars, no smartphones, and black-and-white movies. These times are when history has been made – that’s true – but this isn’t all that history is or has the potential to be. History is made every day. It is very important to acknowledge not only what history has been made before you but also the impact YOU have already made and will continue to make in your homes, schools, communities – and even the WORLD! We need your art, your words, your speeches, your imagination, your songs, your dances, your sculptures, your voices! Black history is made every day. Maybe today’s Black history can start with you.

If you want to learn more about Black history, art, and how both have influenced our world, here are some books we have that you can check out today!

Black Artists Shaping The World by Sharna Jackson; consultant Dr Zoé Whitley

Dedicated to the work of contemporary Black artists from around the world, this book is an introduction to artists from Africa and of African descent for young readers.

Brave, Black, First : 50+ African American Women Who Changed The World by Cheryl Willis Hudson; illustrations by Erin K. Robinson

An illustrated biographical compilation of over fifty African American women from the 1700s through to the present day.

Amazing Artists by J.P. Miller and Chellie Carroll

Dedicated to the work of contemporary Black artists from around the world, this book is an introduction to artists from Africa and of African descent for young readers.

Jean-Michel Basquiat by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara; illustrated by Luciano Lozano

JeanMichel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Puerto Rican mother and Haitian father. When he was eight and recovering from a car accident, his mother gave him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, which sparked his interest in the human form. This biography of the world’s most famous street artist features a facts and photos section at the back.

Miles Morales: Suspended: A Spider-man novel by Jason Reynolds; illustrated by Zeke Peña

Miles Morales is still just your average teenager. He has unexpectedly become totally obsessed with poetry and can never seem to do much more than babble around his crush. Nothing too weird. Oh! Except, just yesterday, he used his spidey superpowers to save the world (no biggie) from an evil mastermind called The Warden. And the grand prize Miles gets for that is…Suspension. But what begins as a long boring day of in-school suspension is interrupted by a little bzzz in his mind. His spidey-sense is telling him there’s something not quite right here, and soon he finds himself in a fierce battle with an insidious…termite?! His unexpected foe is hiding a secret, one that could lead to the destruction of the world’s history—especially Black and Brown history—and only Miles can stop him. Yeah, just a typical day in the life of your friendly neighborhood SpiderMan.

Black ballerinas: my journey to our legacy by Misty Copeland; illustrated by Salena Barnes

From New York Times bestselling and award-winning author and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland comes a nonfiction picture book celebrating dancers of color who have influenced her on and off the stage. As a young girl living in a motel with her mother and her five siblings, Misty Copeland didn’t have a lot of exposure to ballet or prominent dancers. She was sixteen when she saw a Black ballerina on a magazine cover for the first time. The experience emboldened Misty and told her that she wasn’t alone–and her dream wasn’t impossible. In the years since, Misty has only learned more about the trailblazing women who made her own success possible by pushing back against repression and racism with their talent and tenacity. Misty brings these women’s stories to a new generation of readers and gives them the recognition they deserve. With an introduction from Misty about the legacy these women have had on dance and on her career itself, this book delves into the lives and careers of women of color who fundamentally changed the landscape of American ballet from the early twentieth century to today.