Churches Kick Off Black History Month with Services, Celebration

Churches across the nation and around the world marked the start of Black History Month with services and celebrations.

And aside from falling this year on a Sunday, Black History Month kicks off this year just weeks after President Obama stepped into office as the nation's first African American commander-in-chief.

"What an excellent time to be celebrating Black History Month - on the heels of electing our first black president," said the Rev. Carleton J. Giles, pastor of Zion First Baptist Church in Middletown, Ark., according to the local Middletown Press.

For each Sunday this month, starting this past Sunday, youth at Zion First Baptist will stand before the congregation to talk about influential and notable figures in black history. On Sunday, the congregation was told about influential black musicians Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, and Alicia Keys.

In Canada, meanwhile, members of Sydenham United Church in Brantford, Ontario, commemorated Black History Month in joyous celebration, with singing, dancing and praise.

"The place rocked!" exclaimed Sydenham minister Barry Pridham, according to the local Expositor.

"We celebrated the diversity that we already have and we let people know that God's mission in the world is found in the common concerns of love, justice and peace - that all may be one," Pridham added.

Black History Month was first celebrated on Feb. 1, 1926, as "Negro History Week" and later evolved into a month-long celebration 50 years later when President Gerald Ford officially expanded it. Today, it is celebrated annually in most countries worldwide in the month of February, while in the United Kingdom it is held in the month of October.

For many, the annual observation is a way to remember and honor African American accomplishments throughout history while also educating younger generations about the role of African Americans in society and the struggles and challenges they have faced.

This year's celebration is especially meaningful with the nation under the guidance of its first black president and the NAACP celebrating its 100th anniversary.

"We celebrate whenever a glass ceiling is broken and the presidency may be the highest glass ceiling," NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous told USA Today.

However, like most Black leaders, Jealous agrees that the latest milestone doesn't mean that racial inequalities no longer exist.

"We won't be post-racial until we are post-racism," said Jealous, whose organization has planned celebrations throughout this month through 1,700 local NAACP units and hundreds of primary, secondary and university campuses nationwide.

Obama's rise to the presidency does however, open more ways to move forward, as past milestones had paved the way for the former Illinois senator.

"Rosa sat so Martin could stand," noted Stephany Giles of Zion First Baptist, referring to civil rights figures Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

"Martin stood so Barack could run. Barack ran so our children could fly," she continued, citing words that have been circulating through the internet.

As of Monday afternoon, a public statement from Obama regarding Black History Month had not yet been posted on the White House website, and the annual observance was not mentioned in his most recent weekly presidential address, posted one day before the first day of February.

Much of Obama's attention has been directed toward reviving the economy and working to pull the nation out of its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

"While we rightly celebrate this milestone on our nation's path, we also remember the work still to be done for African-Americans throughout the United States," expressed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) in a statement.

"The crises we face in foreclosure, in health care and in unemployment disproportionately affect the African American community. We are working hard on a comprehensive economic recovery package right now to help so many Nevadans and Americans struggling to feed their families and stay in their homes," he added.

"I urge all Nevadans to pause in reflection of all African-Americans have accomplished despite hardship and challenge in our nation. We will continue working for people of all races, religions and ethnicities, so that no matter where we come from, we all have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream."

The Senate planned to begin debate on Obama's massive economic stimulus package on Monday and experts say the process was likely to stretch into next week.

The price tag on the legislation is already approaching $900 billion and will likely grow during Senate debate.