January 20


How 28 Days Came to Be by Charles R. Smith Jr.

The progression of black people in this country is the story of the progression of America.

We were among the first to stand up to tyranny when Crispus Attucks stood up to the redcoats.

We created and reversed laws by continuing to ask questions.

We took our spot in the military and stood tall among giants.

We performed medical miracles that advanced the field.

We explored the ends of the world, inspiring others to seek out extremes.

We worked, backs stooped, for hours under a hot sun and developed a work ethic that turned nothing into millions and then billions.

But it didn’t happen overnight. And we certainly aren’t done.

No longer do we as black people strive only to be treated as equals. Through the accomplishments of others, we now strive to achieve. As astronauts, world explorers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, judges, politicians, military heroes, doctors, presidents, and any other profession we should choose to pursue.

This wasn’t always the case. Early on we wanted simply to be counted. From the terrible Dred Scott decision, where we were viewed as property, to being classified as three fifths of a human because we were slaves, just being acknowledged as individuals was a significant achievement.

I remember sitting in my sixth grade class at Marian Anderson Elementary in Compton, California, when February rolled around and our teacher, Mr. Johnson, would hang up the “black history month faces” around the classroom. Names like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr., surrounded us until March. Each face had information about that person on the back and the faces hadn’t changed since first grade. With no new faces, it was as if, once we achieved equal rights in the law books, we were done. Black history was complete. But it couldn’t be. Weren’t there other names and faces that achieved greatness in black history, past and present?

28 DAYS_cover image            The answer to that question became the focus for 28 Days.

As I began my research for the twenty-eight subjects, I made a point of including some of the names I came across on my own that inspired me, like Guy Bluford, the first black astronaut. As a kid and throughout high school, I wanted to be an astronaut, and when I found out a black man had gone into space, it let me know that I could possibly do the same. Other names like Henry Johnson, Needham Roberts, and Robert Smalls were names I had never heard of until I came across their stories through research.

Some names will always stand out in black history, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. But as well known as Dr. King is, it was important for me to also include Malcolm X. Whereas Martin preached nonviolence, Malcolm preached action “by any means necessary” and his words gave voice to a new generation. Malcolm’s life story also inspired me when I came across his autobiography in high school. Seeing all that he overcame showed me that nothing is given to you and that education is the key to self-awareness and success.

It is my sincere hope that the variety of accomplishments in 28 Days will inspire anyone to chase greatness and contribute to history. Because even though the names and stories are a part of black history, ultimately, they are all a part of American history.

Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning author, photographer and poet with over thirty books to his credit. His awards include a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration for his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem, “My People” and a Coretta Scott King Honor Author Award for his biography on Muhammad Ali, Twelve Rounds to Glory. Charles R. Smith Jr. was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in Poughkeepsie, New York with his wife Gillian and their three kids, Sabine, Adrian and Sebastian. You can find him on the web at www.charlesrsmithjr.com and on Twitter as @CRSjr.

Today’s post is part of a Trifecta.

Click on the images below to see posts at Mr. Sharp’s and Mr. Schu’s blogs.