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This Black History Month let’s focus on Black futures

Photo credit: Riley Johnson, 5, front poses for a portrait with her mom Sasha Bonner in Charlotte, NC on Feb. 4, 2022. Riley had been dressing up as Black female figures for Black History Month. KHADEJEH NIKOUYEH

Black folks have long memories. If ever there were a people who embodied “forgive but never forget,” it’s us. When your history is so dramatic and poignant, it’s easy to get caught up in it. While cherishing our ancestors and anchoring in our past triumphs over adversity has always been our strong suit, so has working towards a dynamic new future. Dr. Martin Luther King pointed us toward the mountaintop and compelled us to hold onto a shared dream of a better, more equal existence for our children. This through line continued through to President Obama’s audacity of hope and modern takes on Afrofuturism from Octavia Butler to Janelle Monae.

All this history and future focus have brought us to where we are today: A remarkable moment when youth-driven mass movements for change have nudged us toward enshrining Black Futures Month as a revitalized take on Black History Month. Despite my gray hairs, I have to say, I’m here for it. This shift towards Black futures comes with huge implications for how we might remember and celebrate differently during this month.

Perhaps we turn our attention to the millions of diasporic Africans setting off from their homelands to secure better futures for themselves, their families.

Maybe we take time to support the future-focused leadership of Laphonza Butler, born in small-town Mississippi, who now runs EMILY’s List and is supporting political campaigns of progressive women. Years from now, when we’ve got more folks like Stacey Abrams and Ayanna Pressley representing our communities, we’ll have Butler and her team to thank.

We could also turn our gaze to exciting projects catalyzing more secure economic futures like the Magnolia Mother’s Trust (also in Mississippi), led by Dr. Aisha Nyandoro.

Launched in 2018, the Trust is the longest-running guaranteed-income project in the U.S. and one of the first to focus specifically on Black women. While designing it, Nyandoro and her team quickly realized that a core problem was how financial limitations impaired mothers’ abilities to imagine a better future for themselves and their kids.

Nyandoro wrote in a recent Goop piece: “Most of these women had been living a life focused solely on the well-being of their kids, which led them to struggle to answer that question. One said, “I’d buy new clothes for my baby.” Okay, but that isn’t for you. They couldn’t even understand the concept of having a few extra dollars for themselves.”

By delivering additional financial support without conditions or judgment, the Trust is literally helping mothers build new futures in ways they hadn’t imagined possible. The results speak for themselves:

  • Mothers in the program increased their ability to pay regular bills on time from 27% to 83%.
  • Women in the program increased their savings for emergencies from 40% to 88%
  • The percentage of mothers reporting enough money for food increased from 64% to 81%

Many of these incredible outcomes were achieved during the pandemic, no less.
Taking time this month to look towards future-focused Black empowerment efforts like Nyandoro’s has given me renewed excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead for our communities in the South and throughout the Black diaspora.

From the Charlotte Observer, 2/23/22

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