Celebration, Reflection, and The Path Forward

Happy Black History Month. Thank you, Justice Southbury, for having me. My name is Nerlande Foote. Like some of you, I wear many hats and juggle many identities. I’m a mother, wife, social justice advocate, a nurse, member of the grassroots group Newtown Allies for Change and, when time allows, ALLEGED neighborhood rabble rouser…IF I’m doing things right.

When I was asked to speak, first I was honored. There’s never a shortage of things to discuss. But in terms of BHM, where do I begin? As days passed, I narrowed down to 3 things: Celebration, reflection, and the path forward.

Black History is more than lackluster political platitudes, recognizable yet partially quoted statements by Dr. MLK Jr.

Black History is American History.

Black History is celebration.

Celebration is Kamala Harris.

Reflection is how long it took to get there.

Celebration is Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Reflection is how long it took to get there.

Celebration is Sheryl Lee Ralph, Maxwell Frost, Starr Andrews and known  trailblazers Ruby Bridges and James Baldwin.

I want to do that in the context of what Black History means in a “small town.” Southbury, Newtown.

I want to do that and focus in the context of a small town rather than as a nation because, if I get into what toxic beliefs and behavior we don’t want trickling up from the sunshine state, we’ll be here all day.

Black History • Celebration & Reflection

Celebration is a focus, but like clockwork every year, the first report you see after a graphic of Rosa Parks is about how watermelon and fried chicken were served in a school cafeteria. It happened this year in the county I grew up in. It happened in 2018 at NYU. February begins and right out the gate you’re texting and collectively shaking your head saying “Really, again?”

Unfortunately, the same goes for blackface. Fraternities, sororities, Snapchat. The children are our future and the children are repeating the mistakes of the past. There are always bumps in the road in the push for progress but the cycle, and report of it, sometimes can’t help but seem purposeful.

Black History is American History.

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day. If you’re in a relationship, how much you value Valentine’s Day will undoubtedly affect the person you are with. You think it’s a Hallmark holiday and they don’t. They think it’s a Hallmark holiday. You don’t.

But imagine if people prepared for Black History Month the same way they prepare for Valentine’s Day. Not to say that you have to, but what if you did? It’s the same month, but one is just one day. Rather than one rack or 3 shelves – stores like TJ Maxx and Michael’s have an abundance of merchandise.…. Not just displayed but purchased. Not just half-off but sold out. We push people to accept inclusivity in public boards but are we all looking for inclusivity in our everyday lives?

Black History is my history • Black history is reflection

Black history is – the country my parents are from, Haiti. The First Nation to ever gain independence through a slave revolt. The country, regardless of past and current political corruption, with a strong beautiful people, white sand beaches, and food bursting with seasoning and spices that will blow you away. With color and soul and vibrancy, my country with resilience, fortitude and honor. Blood I’ve passed down to my beautiful children. My country – Haiti where Karine Jean Pierre, the first Black, the first Haitian person and the first openly LGBTQ person to be White House press secretary is from. My country – my country -with all these things –

You ask where I’m from and I tell you proudly I’m Haitian and you want to relate to me by telling me….how your brother died of AIDS…….


I’m tired.

The path forward is Black History being a celebration. The path forward is not a blip. The path forward is recognizing what’s not done yet.

The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, the federal bill that needs to be passed.

The fight that continues for Black lives.

The fight that includes Black trans lives.

There is no exclusion in my inclusion.

You can be peaceful without complacency.

Cordial without cowering.

So this time when next February rolls around, celebration will be natural, and celebration, part of your reflection.