Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

There’s no way one month alone, even if it was a regular-length month like June, or even a full 31 days like August, could do justice to the historical contributions made by people of color.

Therefore, we should definitely ease up on our expectations for poor little “shortest month of the year” February in its designation as Black History Month. Even if we were to speak about individuals and historical events nonstop 24/7 for the entire month, we’d barely make a dent in all the stories that deserve to be told.

Personally, I prefer to think of it less as “the time we talk about Black history,” and more as “the time when we pause to make sure that we are doing a better job at incorporating all the stories, events and contributions when we talk about history as a whole, every day.”

OK, that’s crazy wordy, but accurate.

The stories that we tell shape the way we understand our world. When those stories ignore, or deliberately remove, entire characters and plotlines, what remains is incomplete and doesn’t make sense.

Black History Month serves to reintroduce those missing pieces of the puzzle. Paying proper attention repairs and restores the full narrative of who we are.


In my own lifetime, I was lucky enough to know the amazing, astounding artist, storyteller and all-around great human being Ashley Bryan.

We lost Bryan two years ago this month, but his work and his outlook on life live on in the books he published, the memories of everyone who knew him – and also in “Beautiful Blackbird,” an astounding ongoing exhibit at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine in Portland.

Born in the Bronx, just a few streets over from, and a very few years ahead of, my own mother, Bryan displayed his artistic genius from a very early age. Opportunities, however, were limited for him because of segregation. At the age of 18, he was sent overseas to fight in World War II, an experience that was deeply traumatic both because of the violence of war itself, as well as the racist treatment he endured from his own commanding officers. These experiences became the basis for his book “Infinite Hope.”

That a book about trauma, horror and cruelty would be titled about hope tells you pretty much everything you might need to know about who he was. Bryan was no minimizer or pretender. He did not shy away from talking openly about injustice and inequality – but neither did he ever fail to transform those experiences into something beautiful, shining and breathtakingly powerful.

The museum exhibit “Beautiful Blackbird” takes its name from another of his books, one that uses his easily-recognizable bold, colorful illustrations and straightforward yet lyrical text to tell the story of personal empowerment and the beauty of being Black. To read this children’s book, or any of his many books, is to hear his voice ringing forth with the joy of being alive.

I had the joy of first meeting Bryan in his home on Cranberry Island, a home filled with puppets, stained-glass windows and artworks in progress. We were strangers when I, along with about 20 other college students, walked through the door, and I think all of us felt like honored guests within the first 30 seconds. Bryan was like that. His conversation was a gift to everyone he encountered.

Bryan also introduced me to the works of Langston Hughes. Mind you, I had read poems by Hughes before, but Bryan brought them to life. Really. Most times when Bryan engaged in public speaking, he began with a recitation of the poem “My People” – and he demanded, in the most joyful way, full audience participation. I understood the poem better when we were done.

If you never had the chance to see him speak, go watch “I Know a Man,” the documentary about his life. It is available to stream through the Ashley Bryan Center’s webpage. You’ll see what I mean. Or, go take in the exhibit at the museum, or read his books.

I can’t think of a better way to kick off the month-long celebration of Black history than with the joyful truths of Ashley Bryan.

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