Guest op-ed: During National African American History Month, we honor those who persevered against injustice

Since 1976, the month of February has been a time to pay tribute to the activists and pioneers whose resilience and strength in the face of racial oppression helped shape our country.

National African American History Month allows us to commemorate the invaluable contributions that black Americans have made throughout history as well as recognize those still fighting against injustice.

As we celebrate the legacies of those who stood up against intolerance, let’s also remember to use their experiences and stories as a call to action and continue working toward a future where true equality is a reality for all.

National African American History Month provides the opportunity not only to reflect on the past, but to learn from it. While it’s difficult to look back at the bigotry and violence that have stained our country’s history, it’s within this somber reflection that we can truly honor the accomplishments of black Americans.

From serving as an important stop on the Underground Railroad to its critical role in the civil rights movement which continues today, New York State has always been at the center of the fight for justice and equality.

Our state is home to many significant landmarks in African-American history, such as Weeksville, Brooklyn, one of the first free black communities in the United States; the African Burial Ground, the first national monument dedicated to Africans and African Americans; and the home of Harriet Tubman in Auburn. As a prominent leader of the Underground Railroad, Tubman helped hundreds of slaves escape their captors and she embodies what it means to be a hero.

Another trailblazing New Yorker we celebrate this month is Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African-American woman to serve in Congress and the first female and African-American major-party candidate for president. Chisholm’s determination to make her voice heard, despite the obstacles in her way, helped push the fight for gender and racial equality forward.

As we celebrate National African American History Month and recognize the heroes who helped our nation progress, it’s also vital that we continue their work and do everything we can to combat the injustices that still impact our communities today.

This begins with ensuring that the sacrifices and stories of black Americans are no longer overlooked and, instead, rightfully preserved for generations to come.

To accomplish this, the Assembly majority helped pass a law establishing the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to spread awareness about the history of slavery and the many contributions black Americans have made to our country and state.

The panel, which will be comprised of individuals with an expertise in African-American art, culture and history, will hold events and educational activities throughout the state as a way of recognizing the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in America.

From enacting laws that reform our criminal justice system to expanding opportunities through President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative and the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program, the New York State Assembly is working hard to ensure each and every New Yorker has a fair shot at success.

This legislative session, I’ll continue fighting for laws that level the playing field and reaffirm our values of freedom and justice for all.

This National African American History Month, I urge you all to become inspired by the leaders who fought tirelessly for equality and commit to making our state a more inclusive place to live. Together, we can learn from the past and create a better future for our families.

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