I am a member of the Black Law Students Association at the University of North Dakota because I want to encourage and assist in increasing diversity among legal professionals and within our community.
Black History Month is annually observed in February with the purpose of remembering important African-American people and historical events. The celebration reminds people to reflect on contributors whose achievements often go unnoticed or are overshadowed. Black History Month emphasizes stories of resilience, change and accomplishment. In doing so, it works to combat the ever-present problem of racial discrimination.
A community like ours -- made up of an overwhelming majority of white residents -- is prone to succumb to the “it does not affect us” mindset. However, there are noteworthy ties to black history closer to the community than some may assume.
In the early 1930s, baseball was a popular sport throughout the country but specifically in North Dakota. According to an article from the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck and other towns throughout the state hired African-American players from other parts of the country where teams were racially segregated. While the African-American players still experienced racism in Bismarck, the town’s motive to have a winning team assisted in weakening racial discrimination.
Another notable tie is Judge Ronald Davies. Davies was a judge in Grand Forks before being seated on the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota. Davies is remembered for his role in ordering the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, where he was temporarily assigned in 1957. That ruling, a key moment in the civil rights era, allowed African-American students known as the “Little Rock Nine” to attend a previously all-white school.
These two examples demonstrate the place North Dakota has in celebrating Black History Month. People in our community have embraced diversity even in times where other places across the country did not. Yet, North Dakota is only in recent years seeing increasing numbers of diversified residents.
Estimates from the North Dakota Census Office show white residents constituted more than 92 percent of residents in 2000 but dropped to 85 percent in 2016. Moreover, African-Americans represented six-tenths of a percentage of the state’s population in 2000 but were estimated to be approximately 3 percent of the state’s population in 2016.
Black History Month presents an opportunity to learn about and embrace stories worthy of attention. It also can inspire a new wave of resilience and achievement. Teachers, incorporate Black History Month lesson plans into curriculums this month. Parents, talk to your children about the importance of embracing diversity. Let us reflect on our past accomplishments and continue working toward a culture of acceptance and unity.