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Feb 21, 2023

Blog post: Learning about Black History can help MCEA be a better community partner

By Eric Ini, Chief Equity and Partnership Officer, Minneapolis Office, 2/21/2023

February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating, learning about, and sharing appreciation for Black heritage. Chances are you’ve seen the four colors used to promote this month - black, red, green and yellow - but do you know what these colors represent?  Understanding this history is important because it helps MCEA ground our organizational commitment to broadening our cultural knowledge and deepening our relationships with Black community partners. 

Let's start by taking a close look at the flags of most African countries. Many incorporate red, green and yellow, most of them just interchanging the position of the colors on the flag, the design, adding a star or stars, or superimposing other emblems. For example, the colors of the Cameroon flag - my home country - are green, red, and yellow, with a yellow star on the red section. The colors of the Senegal flag are green, yellow and red, with a green star on the yellow section. 

Most flags from African countries were inspired by the colors of the Ethiopian flag because, during the scramble for Africa, Ethiopia and Liberia were the only two African countries that retained their sovereignty as recognized independent countries. 

In 1898, in the battle of Adwa, Ethiopia beat Italian forces to gain its independence. Inspired by its example, several other newly-established African countries adopted the colors of its flag after gaining their own independence to give homage to Ethiopia’s resistance against illegal foreign occupation. The colors on the Ethiopian flag are green, yellow, and red, with the national emblem - a golden pentagram on a blue disc -  superimposed at the center. Green, yellow, and red have since been adopted and referred to as Pan-Africanist colors. 

The colors are symbolic of the beauty and richness of the African continent, and the struggle to protect it. The red represents the pain and blood shed from struggles for liberation. Green represents the fertile lands of continental Africa. Yellow or gold represent the immense riches found in many countries across the continent. Black, the fourth color celebrated during Black History Month, represents the beautiful, dark-skinned peoples of sub-Saharan Africa from which the African Diaspora sprang.

As you can see, the colors chosen to represent this month in America were not chosen randomly, they were carefully selected based on the meaning behind them with respect to African history and heritage.

The riches, the fertile soil, the beauty of the African continent, the strength and resourcefulness of the people - it’s all part of what fed the exploitation and extraction of African countries by western countries. That scramble continues still in the form of neo-colonialism. 

This history and its continued legacy are tied to the global environmental justice movements that MCEA works to be a part of in Minnesota today. Here, communities that are most impacted by pollution are often low-income and are predominantly Black, Indigenous or other communities of color. To be good partners in fighting against legacies of extraction and exploitation, we need to understand their histories —and the resiliency, strength, and knowledge of the people who have fought against them. 

I urge my MCEA colleagues and our supporters to join in the celebration of the 2023 Black History Month as a commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It is important for all of us to educate ourselves and each other in ways that reinforce the idea that our histories, realities, and futures are interwoven.  Happy Black History Month!