Utah is a state where its citizens enjoy celebrating this country’s rich history both locally with Pioneer Day and nationally with Independence Day. It speaks volumes about the people who choose to call this state home. This month, the nation celebrates Black History Month. It’s a time to remember the important achievements and contributions of blacks or African-Americans throughout our nation's history.

According to the United States Census, Utah has an estimated 1.4 percent of people who report themselves as black or African-American. It’s obviously low compared to the estimated 78.8 percent who reported themselves as white, not Hispanic or Latino. This means that one out every 71 people in Utah is black or African-American. Having recently returned to the state, I have become more aware of this fact. These numbers are visually represented through my personal experience at work, in church, in the grocery store and generally in the community, where I’m typically the only black person at a given time. Even with this small number, there is still cause for the citizens of this state to pause and celebrate black history.

There are multiple ways I think about celebration — celebrating as a black community, including others in that celebration and providing opportunities for education. The black community takes pride and joy in the month of February as it unites our community nationwide around a singular focus. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate men like Dr. Carter G. Woodson who is considered the “Father of Black History.” Woodson earned a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1912 and later used his passion for black history to establish the Negro History Week, the predecessor to Black History Month. We celebrate other well-known figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, to name a few. We celebrate this month through food, music, art and increasing our understanding of our heritage.

Inviting others to celebrate can be a little more daunting. If you’re not black or have no association with the culture, you may feel uneasy about celebrating. If this is you, find an opportunity to gain exposure to the culture. After exposing yourself to the culture, then find an opportunity to have a dialogue with someone you may know who is black. Ask them about their life and their family’s history. Learn about their experiences as a black person. With exposure and dialogue, you will find out details about that individual and the black culture that will create a deeper level of understanding. Ultimately, finding ways to identify with the black culture will open opportunities for those who desire to celebrate with us.

Increasing your knowledge of black culture and history is an important part of celebrating. Last year, I read the autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., and it left an indelible imprint on my mind and soul. He embraced his calling as one who worked anxiously to provide blacks with the freedoms of every man in America. We can all find ways to increase our knowledge of black culture and history through literature, documentaries, articles, movies and online academic courses.

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There may be under 44,000 blacks or African-Americans in Utah, but I believe through education and inclusion of the greater population and as a black community, the citizens of this state can add that number to the 3.1 million Utahns uniting to support and celebrate Black History Month.

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