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Black History Month: Brilliance, Excellence, and Innovativeness

Lesley Williams

As a child, I vividly remember my Puerto Rican mom always watching the Oprah Winfrey Show, and I distinctly remember Oprah Winfrey and her show being my first real exposure to black culture, besides my black father and his family.

When I was eight years old, I attended a mostly white summer camp in Queens, New York. That summer, I remember my greatest fear being someone would ask me why my last name was Williams, and not something more Puerto Rican. I was afraid they would discover and scrutinize my blackness. Early on I learned it was safer for me to be Puerto Rican, and not black. Even at eight, I had already observed the way black people were treated in our country and how our society deemed blackness as negative.

Growing up, I hardly ever talked with my mom about my blackness. I didn’t think she fully understood it, and she wasn’t the only one. When Sandra Bland died in police custody, I thought, “that could be me.” My mom couldn’t understand my thinking because to her, I didn’t look black like Sandra Bland. Because I didn’t “look” black, I have had my blackness questioned for as long as I can remember.

But the greater understanding that I’ve gained over the years is that being black is much more than just the pigment of my skin. My blackness is rooted in history, rich culture, resiliency, and legacy. I fight and will continue to fight in the name of my black ancestors and all their greatness and wisdom. Black History Month is about the greatness of black people. Black History Month celebrates the brilliance, excellence, and innovativeness it takes to be black in America.


About the Series

Since 1976, the United States has designated February as Black History Month to honor the often overlooked achievements of black Americans throughout the country’s history. Demos is honoring Black History Month by highlighting reflections from some of our staff. We welcome you to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts with us on social media using #blackhistorymonth