Black History Month began in 1915, when thousands of Black people travelled across America to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the emancipation of slaves and celebrate their accomplishments as free people. Black History Month is important to everyone because it acknowledges the contributions of Black people to American society and American culture as a free people.
This seems wonderful, yet we can’t ignore how our past got us to where we are today. In the U.S. Constitution, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except for punishment of those who are convicted of a crime. Almost immediately, this amendment was exploited. Black people were characterized as less than human and more like animals that needed to be controlled. The slavery industry was replaced by the prison industry.
Unfortunately, that was true in the 1800s and is even truer now. Today we have more Black people under criminal supervision than all of the slaves back in the 1850s. From Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern U.S. states in the early 20th century to the Stand Your Ground law that threatens Black people who are more frequently perceived as criminals, the laws that uphold racial inequities persist 156 years later.
This month, I especially encourage you to celebrate the freedom of Black people. Celebrate that the treatment of Black people has improved yet acknowledge that the crisis of racial discrimination persists. Why is this everyone’s problem? ACSM members and leaders are dedicated to identifying innovative ways to positively influence science, public health and social justice to help people live longer, healthier lives. Racial discrimination and prejudice threaten each of those areas. This year’s Black History Month theme is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. I am pleased to greet you as the first black president of the American College of Sports Medicine, and I invite you to join our ACSM family as we progress to face these challenges together.
I encourage you to view my corresponding video and look for additional Black History Month celebrations throughout February.
NiCole R. Keith, Ph.D., FACSM, serves as a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and the associate dean of faculty affairs in the School of Health & Human Sciences at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), a research scientist at the IU Center for Aging Research and a Regenstrief Institute investigator. She is dedicated to research and programming that increases physical activity participation, improves fitness and positively influences health outcomes while addressing health equity. Last June, Dr. Keith became the 64th president of the American College of Sports Medicine, making history as the first Black president of the organization. Dr. Keith holds a B.S. in Physical Education from Howard University, an M.S. in Exercise Science from the University of Rhode Island, a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Connecticut and an M.S. in Clinical Research from Indiana University.