February is Black History Month, an observance that was started in 1926 by African-American historian, scholar and educator Carter G. Woodson. Eighty-seven years later, it's time to gauge the nation's progress toward equality. The opportunities for people of color have grown exponentially. So much so that we as a nation celebrate living African Americans who continue to make history.
Just last month, our first African-American president of the United States was sworn into office for a historic second term. That swearing-in took place nearly 150 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and on the national day of remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. Last month, T.W. Shannon was elected as the first African-American speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Tom Colbert was sworn in as the first African-American chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and David Lewis became the first African-American presiding judge of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
If the past has taught us nothing more, it's that anyone — regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background — has the ability to achieve greatness if they're willing to serve and are given equal opportunity to learn, grow and prosper. As Americans, we acknowledge the tremendous accomplishments of African Americans. By doing so, we aren't just celebrating black history. We're also celebrating American history.
Kent J. Smith Jr., Langston
Smith is president of Langston University.