February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate influential people, events and actions contributing to Black History in the United States. Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History selects a theme for Black History Month to focus the attention on one specific aspect of the Black experience. In 2022, the theme is “Black Health and Wellness.”
“I absolutely love the theme and focus on health and wellness,” said Lana Sweeting (pictured), Black Cultural Library Advocate (BCLA) at Rockwood Library. “It’s a topic that often gets swept under the rug, but to take this time to bring attention to self-care, and taking a step back when we can, is perfect.”
Each library location is finding their own way to celebrate Black History Month and connect with their local communities, offering book recommendations, activities, library displays and more, around the theme of Health and Wellness.
At Hollywood Library, BCLA team members Tamara Stigler and Kariisa Allen are highlighting lesser-known African-Americans who made a large impact for the civil rights movement. Some examples include Diane Nash and Dorothy Height, women in the civil rights movement who were behind the scenes fighting along other more well known civil rights leaders. As part of her display, Tamara is sharing information about the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and how to visit the museum virtually.
The Black Cultural Library Advocates team “creates programs and services that, from the foundation, are by and for the community,” said Sonja Ervin, Multnomah County Library Equity and Inclusion Manager. “This gives folks the opportunity to know that the library is a space for them, and this is why the BCLA position is so vital in connecting with the community.”
The library has intentionally and rapidly expanded the team over the past few years, with an increase of 33 BCLA positions between 2019-2021. The total number of BCLA staff is 38. Currently, 14 libraries have dedicated Black cultural staff positions: North Portland, St. Johns, Kenton, Hollywood, Albina, Midland, Central, Capitol Hill, Hillsdale, Sellwood, Gregory Heights, Gresham, Fairview-Columbia and Rockwood libraries.
“There is so much knowledge and resources that should be afforded to everyone, and representation matters," said Tamara. "I am a native Portlander, and I remember going to the school library, but I don’t recall going to the local library. When I had my son, we encouraged him to go. The library opened up so many doors for him to explore and to learn, and in part because of these experiences he is now a Computer Engineer.”
The BCLA team has a mission to “leverage Multnomah County Library’s platform and resources to preserve and strengthen Black communities.” Part of this is through displays, programing, book selections, storytimes, and community outreach.
“This year we are adding a display of children’s books for Black Children’s Week that are just stories of kids being kids,” said Melanie Boyd (pictured), BCLA at Kenton Library. “There are so many books out there that focus on how people of color are different from white people. These stories show Black children as worthy of love and fun.”
Kenton Library’s Black History Month selections range from stories of Afro-Latino families, to culturally sensitive and relatable children’s books:
- Just Like Mama, focusing on relationships between a caregiver and child.
- Time For Bed, Old House, about a boy who is afraid to go to sleep at his grandpa's house because of the noises made. But once his grandfather goes to sleep, he knows it is okay and he is safe there.
- Sharing a Smile, a relevant and timely children’s book of a girl who is worried she cant see people’s smiles because of masks.
Many library locations will have a Black History Month display, Black Resource Book List and Black History Month giveaways - including free books to take home!
Take a look at these events and more to celebrate Black History Month:
- We Had Jazz, Collins Gallery, 3rd floor of Central Library, Feb 1-Mar 31
- Peace of Mind: Navigating, Stress, Anxiety, School and COVID, a wellness event with a focus on providing a safe space for Black teens, Tues, Feb 8, 6-7:30 pm
- Stones, Bones and Black Eyed Peas, a cooking demonstration with history and modern interpretations of food, Thu, Feb 10, 6:30-7:30 pm
- Music and Movement For Children with Nikki Brown Clown, culturally creative story time to celebrate Black History Month, Sat, Feb 19, 10-10:45 am
- Barbershop Talk: Health and Wellness, an open forum on health and wellness in the African diaspora, Wed, Feb 23, 7-8 pm
The BCLA team's work brings our larger community together so that we can continue to include materials, programs and services that match what the community wants and needs. “We want to create spaces where people can ask questions,” said Lana. “With this dedicated role, we are able to find ways to connect people with resources, and make the library a safe space.”
Check out other reading recommendations from the Black Cultural Library Advocates: