Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Brig. Gen. Stephen Michael, deputy commanding general for Combined Arms Center – Training, was the keynote speaker at the CAC and Fort Leavenworth Black History Month luncheon Feb. 6 at the Frontier Conference Center.
“History binds us to the past. History teaches us the right questions to ask. History enables us to have hope for the future, our future,” Michael said. “It enables a nation to unify for common purpose and achieve something greater than the sum of its parts.”
The observance of Black History Month first began as a personal observance by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a scholar of black history, but, eventually, Public Law 99-244 established it as a national observance every February, Michael said.
Throughout the observance, the accomplishments of Harriet Tubman, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Buffalo Soldiers and more are often noted, but these people and their accomplishments are more than just African American history, Michael said.
“It is American history, for the experience of African Americans in America is American history,” Michael said. “One history, forged in fire and shared by one people, one nation.
“On days like this, pausing for a few moments to honor the past and reflect on our shared experience allows us to better appreciate what we have, where we have been and all the potential that lies ahead,” he said.
Michael said when participating in this kind of observance it is important to look at both the good and the bad.
“There is a scripture that says that the sins of the father are visited upon the sons. If so, why?” he asked. “It is because it is a human condition to look away, not wanting to acknowledge and confront the dark parts of our past, to understand and see how its legacy still haunts us, but in so doing, we give it power.
“Of our history, if we choose not to learn from it, to confront it head on, both the goodness and the badness, the truth; if we choose to excuse and overlook those things about our past that are uncomfortable, or think that the telling of it no longer matters, we then give it power and the ‘sins of the father’ are in play,” he said. “Run to the light, for darkness cannot abide in the light. We are not responsible for the actions and decisions of our forefathers. They have no power over us unless we give it, unless we make it so, unless we perpetuate the actions and beliefs, and do not understand the legacy those actions and beliefs now leave behind and that, where necessary, must be undone.”
Noting America as the best nation on the planet, Michael then quoted the Declaration of Independence.
“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Michael quoted. “‘Governments … deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’”
“Our Founding Fathers designed something altogether new. That Declaration of Independence is foundational and is the thing upon which our Constitution stands,” he said. “It is the very thing that separates this country of ours from every other country on the planet. That idea is where America’s greatness and promise lies, that is where the American Empire exists — in that promise, that idea and in our hearts and minds.”
Michael said America has embraced that idea.
“That is why you can find America in all the corners of this planet. You can find America in Iran, in Iraq, in Russia, in China, where ever the human spirit resides,” Michael said. “That’s why folks throughout our short history immigrate and gravitate; why Lady Liberty declares with the date of our Declaration of Independence inscribed on her frame and a broken shackle and chain lying at her feet, she declares, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.’ That is American history at its glory.
“This kind of frank discussion about African Americans and their experience in America is not to knock our greatness, but rather being able to acknowledge our dark parts and past, understand its impact and expose it to the light,” he said. “That is in fact why we are and will remain great. … Let’s lean in, let’s embrace our shared history, one history but at times different experiences and different perspectives. Read it, learn of it, ask the questions, challenge the hypostasis, know of it and, in so doing, we will secure and perfect this great union of ours.”
The next CAC and Fort Leavenworth cultural observance is the Women’s History Month luncheon at 11:30 a.m. March 12 at FCC.