In honor of Black History Month, b asked several notable African-American young adults in Baltimore to talk about its relevance to their lives and society.

Here's S. Ann Johnson, 25, a professional writer and editor, and web producer for CBS Baltimore, who e-mailed in her responses:What does Black History Month mean to you personally -- especially specific memories and inspirations?


I appreciate what Black History Month events do for the Black community. It's the one time out of the year when I know my people are going to talk about tough issues, honor our ancestors and celebrate our heritage. I am proud to be Black 365 days of the year. But there are times during this month that gives me a reason to hold my head a little higher and smile a little wider.

My fondest memory of Black History Month was becoming a finalist in the 2001"Champion of Courage" essay competition in 10th grade. I entered the competition because I needed extra credit for English class. Prior to my writing the essay, then Baltimore Polytechnic Institute assistant principal Sam Brown talked to my English class about being arrested during his college years because he was a part of a peaceful civil rights protest. I felt honored in that moment because it was the first time that I actually met someone who was a part of the Civil Rights Movement. I mean, you hear stories and you read stories and everyone knows about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. But in that moment, I could say 'Hey, I actually know a man that fought for my right to be equal. He's my principal!' So, I wrote the essay about Mr. Brown, and it ended up airing on Fox 45 and what was then the WB Network.

Being a part of the "Champion of Courage" essay competition really showed me that you don't have to be rich or famous to make a difference in a young person's life. Other participants wrote essays about their mothers, fathers, teachers, community workers. That's the beauty of Black History. We all have a piece of it; we all play a part.

To this day, I'm inspired most by everyday people making a positive change in their community.

What role do you feel Black History Month currently plays in society? What is its specific relevance in 2011?

The relevance of Black History Month— like all cultural celebratory months such as Hispanic Heritage Month and Asian-Pacific Islander Heritage month— is to remind the world that race matters. Culture matters. Yes, people of color have persevered, but injustice still exists. Black History Month is a means to celebrate our rich heritage and the obstacles that we have overcome, but it is also a conduit to bring issues to the table that we have yet to successfully address. Black History Month gives many of us who feel as though we need a reason, a reason to initiate racially charged dialogue.

Is black history adequately recognized in the U.S.? If not, what could individuals and institutions do further?

As a Black woman, I must admit that I took Black History Month for granted. I once assumed that everyone knows and cares about Black History Month. I grew up in a predominately Black community in west Baltimore and attended predominately Black schools where Black History Month was highly recognized and celebrated. Juxtapose that with the predominately white college I attended in the middle of central Pennsylvania. Black History was definitely different there. I noticed a drastic difference.

During my first two years of college, MLK Day (though it doesn't fall during Black History Month) was seen as just another day. We still had class. And I thought to myself, what world am I living in? What planet are these people from? Back home in Baltimore, my mother and I went to the MLK Day parade and celebrated in the streets. And there I was in college surrounded by some of the most educated people I knew who were treating the day as just another day. I was at first angry, but then I took a deep look at myself and realized that I'm no better. Sure Black History Month meant a lot to me as a Black woman, but at that time Hispanic Heritage Month and Asian-Pacific Islander Month did not. I didn't realize just how much people outside of my culture sacrificed, how they too fought for civil rights; how their struggle impacted my life.

So, on an institutional level, I think it is important to stress that we all in this together. That my struggle is your struggle; my fight is your fight. Just because it's Black History Month doesn't mean that there is no place for a nonblack person to rejoice. The same is true for other heritage months. Individuals and institutions need to do a better job of including folks that may feel like they don't have a right to celebrate with us.

I am not suggesting a "color-blind world"—that phrase makes no sense to me. I love color and all its glory—but I am suggesting a more welcoming world.

S. Ann Johnson was born and raised in Baltimore. She is a professional writer and editor, and web producer for CBS Baltimore. An emerging playwright, her multicultural choreopoem, The XX Chromosome Genome Project, will make its New York City debut on April 16 as a part of the Downtown Urban Theater Festival. For more information about S. Ann, go to