A Journey of Self-Discovery: Embracing African American Artistry in Black History Month

By Candice Morris, Partnership Director

Candice with a former student

Growing up, I did not see widespread racial representation in the media. I also faced microaggressions and a severe feeling of guilt, as I was not able to connect with others who looked like me, and I never truly felt like a part of a community until I entered middle school.  

After countless experiences of what I have now come to learn are “identity invalidations” the rejection from others who are monoracial or identify as that of a dominant racial sub-group – I found that developing a secure self-identity through self-love and cultural pride was a much longer journey than I anticipated. This journey, in fact, has now spanned over three decades. The lack of a sense of belonging greatly impacted my youth development, leaving me with feelings of isolation and shame about my racial identity well into adulthood.

As I graduated from high school and considered my career path, I was continually called back to education, and realized my “why” was to be that person and educator that I needed growing up. In doing so, I hoped to instill confidence, pride and a culture of belonging in my students, as I wished my community had for me all those years ago. 

Candice and her first-ever class in 2014.

This Black History Month, I took the opportunity to continue to explore my African American roots. Honoring the national theme of “African Americans and the Arts,” I created a digital exploration of the legends and legacies African Americans have left on American culture for centuries. Working with members of EOS’ Racial Equity Committee, I created weekly infographics offering our staff a digital exploration of narratives displaying the resilience, creativity, and cultural richness that define the African American experience and its profound impact on our collective identity.

These resources were shared with our EOS staff members nationwide, providing opportunities for collaboration and a shared understanding of the impact African Americans have made in the arts and the development of culture in the United States. Through this exploration of music, art, activism, and film, I found deep pride and resonances with my personal journey of navigating identity, embracing diversity, and celebrating our shared experiences. 

While discovering the influence of African Americans in blues music and jazz, I became inspired by the ability of these musicians to infuse their unique cultural experiences into their art, creating melodies that resonate with the soul. From the moving melodies of B.B. King to the improvisational brilliance of Miles Davis, African American musicians made a big mark on the global music landscape. I led our EOS team in the creation of a group-curated playlist that gathers the melodies of African Americans over the years, as we discussed the influence of these artists on others in various genres and geographic regions.

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The Harlem Renaissance, with its celebration of Black creativity across the country/globe, reminds me of the power of community and the importance of honoring our collective heritage. Writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, along with musicians like Duke Ellington, flocked to Harlem in New York City, creating a vibrant cultural hub that celebrated Black creativity and intellect. Their works not only captured the essence of the Harlem Renaissance but also laid the foundation for future generations of African American artists. 

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The Black Arts Movement and its visionaries inspired an unwavering commitment to using literature, poetry, music and visual art as tools for liberation and empowerment. Their courage to challenge systemic oppression through literature, poetry, music, and visual art motivates me to use my own creativity to effect positive change in the world. Led by visionaries like Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, this movement sought to create art that reflected the realities of Black life and challenged systemic oppression.  

Reflecting on the legacy of Negro spirituals, I was moved by the resilience and strength of my ancestors, who found solace and hope amid adversity. These deeply spiritual songs, passed down through generations, provided solace in times of despair and inspired hope for a better future. Their influence can be heard in various musical genres today, reminding us of the enduring legacy of African American creativity. 

As I analyzed the works of African American writers, I was reminded of the power of storytelling to amplify marginalized voices and inspire generations of readers. From the groundbreaking works of Toni Morrison to the poignant poetry of Maya Angelou, these writers have used their words to challenge societal norms, amplify marginalized voices, and inspire generations of readers. 

This Black History Month, we commemorate not only the achievements of African American artists but also the resilience, creativity, and cultural richness that they have brought to the world stage. I am thankful for my work with EOS, as I continue exploring my identity and learning about my culture and the impact that my ancestors have left on the nation. I am testament to the importance of providing environments rich in belonging, student voice, and representation, and I will continue to amplify the voices of pride and gratitude. Let them serve as sources of inspiration to empower us all on our own journeys of self-discovery and cultural celebration.