“Why I care about Black History”: essay contest winners

The following works won placement in the “Why I care about Black History” essay contest sponsored by the University of North Florida Office of Interdisciplinary Programs. Prizes had the potential to be awarded to the best undergraduate entry, best graduate entry and best staff/faculty entry. All essays below won placement, are original works and solely reflect the opinions of the author.

If you’d like to submit a work, please contact us at [email protected].

1st Place Graduate Prize

Why I care about Black History

By Suzanne Shea

Why is HIS-story taught as THE story 

through a pale, narrow scope 

tragically and persistently void  

of exactitude? 


Her story, our story, their story  

does exist 

in the broadest lens  

with all the colors 


What is Black History?  

It is a naming  

It is a beginning 

A recognition of the need 

for more wholeness 



a step toward widening and reminder of unique separateness It is shaded with fervent achievement  

amid the pressure and exclusion  

of the persistent void. 


Black History is a celebration, a leveling, recognition, joy  

the mastery of science and medicine, music, community, architecture, invention many things 

all things


And people,  

human beings, family 

Divinely created 

inspired amid struggle  

with purpose and poise and abiding commitment 


Their names, shapes, stories, sounds 

their contribution shrouded from systems 

peeking through with priority  

in the shortest month 

a hurried glimpse 


Black History is the story of the origins of life 

Ought to be the birth of education



a story of life and death  

voter rights, human rights 

pioneers and earth shaking movements

Is that today?  

Is that yesterday?  



We know MLK but do you know Robert Smalls? too much importance in the shadows,  powerful, uplifting,  

vital to mutual understanding 

vital to comprehensive wealth 


Black History is expansive 

much to explore,  

to listen, to hear,  

to try to know 

to love 

respect and honor

1st Place Undergraduate Prize

My Memories Lost to the Auction Block

By Nichole Cohen

The existence of me 

Fights like hell to be free

In new lands where our legends are taught

Classrooms preach about bliss, then 

Deny we exist – ed  

Before the ol’ auction block.

A deep chasm resides 

Where my family name lies,

My roots searching for some other name – 

The name Cohen was hailed 

By the cold bill of sale 

Black History, silenced a-gain.


What is Black History?

They created that mystery, 

Then demand us to quiet our voice.

“You are all free enough, so, 

Why bring it all up?”

As if selling our souls was a choice.

“Go back!” they all say,

“Bring us back to those days –” 

 Racist phrases repeated, rewound –  

“– when the country was strong 

And nothing was wrong,” 

Chilled ignorance stark and profound! 

Legacies ripped to shreds – 

My family name dead – 

Then they claim there is something I stole

From the men who look back 

at their ancestor’s tracks

And can follow them all the way home.  

You see, my great-great grandmother stood 

Where you now wear your hood, 

On the block, where her body ran cold.

And your family name, it still stays the same

As mine never stopped being sold. 

Five lifetimes we have stayed, 

Our debt – overpaid – 

Yet you believe in forgetting my pain.

Memories to behold, 

And my story’s untold

 Still, you refuse to acknowledge my name!

Imagine my surprise

When Ignorance begat lies –   

–   Another bill taking hold with no shame.


History, once again, 

being stifled, amend – ed, 

Forgotten, Ignored, Washed Away.

I can still hear that sound – 

Hear the gavel strike down

To decide on My Memories’ cost

Here, my blood freezes cold 

As my memories sold 

Once again on that auction block.


I was ten when my grandfather told me about the day his grandfather chose his grandmother. My great-great grandfather, “The first Cohen” was what he called him, saw my grandmother in all of her grace and beauty and decided that she would become his wife. My grandfather’s story delighted me for all of my life: my own flesh and blood so beautiful that my grandfather chose to be with her forever –– but that beautiful story had been passed down and retold only through the eyes of citizens who have always been free..

My history, American history, is again being deliberately torn out, forgotten, and rejected to ensure that its citizens stay illiterate to the fact that slavery and its practices are echoed and interwoven into every American amendment, law, and bill. How can our great nation hope to form “a more perfect union” if our people are taught to erase their own history as if it never existed? Erase the fact that the ideas of Justice, Tranquility, Liberty and Prosperity were never intended to apply to people adorned with black skin? A nation that will let my existence be forgotten twice – obliterated by an-other broken bill – begets a broken nation that will always believe that black bodies, and their memories, can be sold on the auction block.

2nd Place Undergraduate Prize


By Eric Wells

Growing up as a black male and living in the same house with my mother who was raised by a Black Panther, I was always aware of black history but the older I got, the more I gained a deep appreciation for the history that came before me and why it’s important for people to understand their history to better understand their present and future.

I went to elementary school with a kid named Bishop, and he would find any way to connect what we were talking about in class to black history. For example, the teacher could ask “What’s 3 x 3?” and he would say “the answer is 9…. but also, did you know there were 9 black kids who went to the first integrated school in Arkansas.” The entire class would sigh because of his persistency to always include black history into conversation. The older I grew, the more I realized that Bishop was very wise for his age considering his knowledge of black history and understanding of self. Something that black people struggle with a lot is knowledge of self and self-love because a lot of times we only see chaos around us and not enough positive images. A black person knowing that their lineage is kings and queens can be uplifting to somebody who doesn’t think it’s possible for black people to reach such remarkable lengths. I think that it can also be detrimental to only think black history is slavery, segregation, and other things that are negative and portray black people as victims because subconsciously, a person will begin to think that’s the legacy that’s meant for them. For example, if there are two kids, and one kid learns that his family legacy comes from college graduates, millionaires, inventors and things of that sort, it’s more likely for that kid to have a mindset that it’s possible to be successful in life because that’s what his family history shows. If the other kid is taught that he comes from a family of drug addicts, drug dealers, high school dropouts, and negative images of that sort, that kid will begin to think more negatively on the future of his life. I think it is incredibly important to put positive black history images in front of kids and adults to show that black people have invented, accomplished, and philosophized some of the greatest things on earth. 

The way Bishop treated black history will always stick in my head because he showed genuine care for the history, present and future for black people which I think is a very honorable act. I care about black history because I care about the future for black people, and I believe it Is very difficult to understand yourself as a black person in America and not understand the history of people that preceded you.