SOLES Celebrates Black History Month: Student Spotlight with Jamal Oakes

A photo and quote from Jamal Oakes

In observance of Black History Month, Jamal Oakes reminds us of a few of the many Black historical figures we should all learn about and emphasizes that we are currently living in history through the Black Lives Matter movement. Jamal is a master's student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at SOLES.

Why do you feel it's important to recognize Black History Month?

It is very important to recognize Black History Month. This is the time to recognize all the achievements that Black people have made throughout history and how they persevered under pressure and broke boundaries that were set to hold them back. Especially during this time right now, I believe that Black History Month is a pivotal time because with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for equality and equity, remembering those in the past who were in our spot and fighting for change is important. Black History Month should be important to everyone because it is American history and not only that but it is a collection stories and lives that promote growth and change as well as perseverance. From amazing authors to political leaders and activists, Black History Month is a chance for everyone to learn about past history.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month means a lot to me. It is about giving remembrance to those in the past who fought for equality, and it is also about those in the present who are keeping those ideas and values alive. To me, Black History Month is inspiring. It pushes me to keep working hard and striving to do more. When I was a kid in elementary school, the only two people I would learn about were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X, and for middle school Rosa Parks was added to that list. However when I got to high school and college, I wanted to know more about the leaders and pioneers in Black history that made so much change. So I would research random historical figures and take classes on African American history and that made a significant impact on who I am as a person. I strongly believe that more multicultural classes and courses should be implemented in the educational system as early as elementary school. The only time I was given the chance to see and learn about Black leaders was during the month of February because it is Black History Month and because of that it inspired me to want to seek out more knowledge. Overall Black History is a significant part of history and it means a great deal to me.
Which historical Black figure is most inspiring to you?
Muhammad Ali. He stood tall for his principles and stayed true to himself and for that he inspires me to do the same. When Ali was given the draft letter he told the army no. He was not gonna fight, and his reasons were simple. Since America was treating Black people poorly, why should he go out and help fight in a war against another country? "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.… If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.” This quote resonates with me because he stood for his principles and faced the consequences no matter how severe it was. Standing up for yourself and beliefs in the face of judgement and criticism this is why Muhammad Ali is an inspiring figure to me.
What do you hope is accomplished during the month of celebration and recognition?
More awareness of other pivotal figures in Black history besides just Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X or Rosa Parks. During this time, I hope that everyone takes the time to read and learn about other figures in Black history that might be lesser known than the group I mentioned earlier, such as Ida B. Wells, Mary Ellen Pleasant, or Sister Rosetta Tharpe. These Black women were very important in the advancement of Black people, and I hope that everyone learns about them or at least challenges themselves to learn about a new figure. During this time, whoever is reading this I challenge you to research a Black historical figure and look at the challenges that they may have faced and self reflect on how you feel about it. I guarantee you will definitely learn something about that person or yourself.
Anything else you would like to add?
It is great to notice Black History Month, but to me Black History is everyday. We should always notice the past figures that left their mark on history, and we should also be mindful of the accomplishments and achievements made by Black people in our present day. It is important to realize that we are in the middle of history with the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of progress has been made yet it is highly important that we continue to speak up and advocate for more change in the system. It is important that there is more dialogue on criminal justice reform and that we hold accountable the actions of others that lead to the unjustly death of many such as Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Trayvon Martin. It is important that we have conversations about anti-racism in any capacity and highlight the disproportions that plague Black people. Also advocate for the importance of Black mental health because Black mental health is a topic that is not talked about as much as it should and it definitely deserves a spotlight, especially in athletes. Overall Black History Month is an important part of history and we are all apart of it. It is imperative that we all on the right side of history and advocate for growth and change.


Rachelle Martinez
(619) 260-4283


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