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What Black History Month Means to Me

Black History Month, to me, means celebrating. If you were to ask what it meant to me when I was in high school, I would have given you a different reason. Back then, my answer would have been Black History Month is for recognition: recognizing the determination of people of my race who fought so I could live my life as an identified person of the United States. Black History Month was for honoring giants like Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr., yet my answer has changed these past couple of years. I still honor the known names of Black history, but I celebrate now in a different fashion.

This change from recognition to celebrating began with my cousin, Carwin Pleasant. Carwin was an older cousin on my dad’s side. He walked with a cane for decades but mostly traveled in a motorized wheelchair. Honestly, I wish I could remember more conversations between him and myself. Everything I knew about Carwin while growing up came from his fishing buddy: His cousin, my father. As long as Carwin was in Arkansas, he and my dad would be out fishing at least once a week for years. Carwin would always light up, hearing my dad talk about me playing the baritone or my brothers playing their clarinets. I learned that Carwin played instruments in his younger years. From what I remember, trumpet and double bass. My dad told me Carwin played in military bands and even some presentations for presidents. 2014 was the year all that changed.

In 2014, Carwin Pleasant was honored into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame, listed under his main jazz instrument, the bass. From Carwin’s jazz history, the name of a band he played with was the Art Porter Trio. Scouring the internet to learn about Arthur “Art” Porter and members of the Trio became a habit of mine for over two years. Carwin Pleasant passed at 83 in 2015, but Black history and the ties to his music keep me celebrating connections from one person to another. To this day, I still find more musicians and composers Carwin may have met or even played alongside in his prime. So, I do keep honoring the past of Black history, but my eyes are set on who’s up and coming, who I can meet, and who I will inspire someday.

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