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Opinion

This is my black history

Personal stories are at the core of Black History Month. American's should honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but should not forego the average stories in every African-American family in favor of the once-a-century events and leaders in our history.

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Though they could not vote in Jim Crow South Carolina, Will and Annie wanted their children to live in an America of liberty and opportunity for all that President Roosevelt’s action seemed to represent.

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My grandfather was a minister, and he and his wife, Louisa, named their fourth son Theodore Roosevelt Johnson, Jr, again in hopes that their children would have the opportunity America promised, but that the racially charged 1950s did not allow.

Just over a year ago, I, Theodore Roosevelt Johnson III, walked out of the Blue Room of the White House and met the president and first lady. One of my family’s many generational hopes and dreams was finally realized once I shook hands with President Obama and spoke their names in the halls of the White House; the same space where President Roosevelt inspired two proud black people to take a leap of faith for the American promise.

This is my black history, and my American story. It indelibly binds me to a history that continues to live through me, and is not contained in an annual month-long study of facts and speeches.

Stories such as these are at the core of Black History Month. We need not look far. When Americans really reflect on their families and communities, they will recognize the contributions of all African-Americans, not just those who are seen as famous or heroic. The fact that their own stories aren’t as well known or recognized makes their inspiration, purpose, and achievement more tangible.

Every single African-American has a number of personal testimonies to contribute to this national month of remembrance. The many challenges and triumphs of our family members weave an intricate fabric chronicling the richness of the African-American experience.

This is not to say that we should ignore the great people, moments, and accomplishments in black history. It is vitally important that the nation recognize the importance of pivotal moments and transcendent personalities that serve as milestone markers for the epic of journey that is American history.

But the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation is not just found in the man Lincoln or his courage; it is also found in the millions of slaves that deserved their freedom – and all of their descendants. The power in the “I Have a Dream” speech is not just in Martin Luther King Jr. or his divine oration, but also in the hope and struggle of millions who inspired it in the first place.

We should not forego the average stories in every African-American family – indeed, every American family – for the once-a-century events and leaders in our history. We are our own Black History, a mesh of the dreams we’ve each received from our forefathers and mothers.

Theodore Roosevelt Johnson III is an active-duty Navy officer, writer, and 2011-2012 White House Fellow. His work has appeared in a variety of publications including The Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, NBC’s The Grio, and The Hill. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US government.

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