I Am Black History: The Importance of Mental Health in Carrying On Legacies

Dena Keeling
Dena Keeling

My name is Dr. Dena Keeling — I’m the vice president of equity and inclusion at Active Minds. I like to say that I was born to judge systems of inequity and oppression, to bring justice by creating new antiracist systems, and to celebrate Black people in all of our intersectionalities. After all, my name means judgment or justice. I was born on the 8th day of February. Eight is the number of new beginnings and February is the month of, well you already know, Black History. I know the value of Black History, and I know we are still embodying it today — but, I also know, we cannot sustain Black History if we do not also protect our mental health.

I’ve been doing this work for a long time. When I was in high school I was tasked with introducing a local African American news anchor to the student body at a Black History assembly. In my speech, I spoke about the negative images of Black people in the news and how these were not an accurate portrayal of who we are as a people. Afterward, the news anchor said to me, “Great speech. Now, what are you going to do about it?”   

In some ways, things haven’t changed much. While the news and social media outlets seek to bring awareness, we are left with the trauma of the images of the desecration of Black bodies. Racism in all its forms has tried and continues to try, to defeat and extinct Black people, but guess what — we’re still here. Our lives are an act of resistance, a testament to our resilience, and a reason for joy. Our existence is Black History. WE ARE BLACK HISTORY!  

Audre Lorde said it best, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” This is why preserving our mental health and protecting our mental well-being is vital because we out here making History. And we need the strength to keep uplifting and celebrating Black History. 

Black History should not just be seen as famous figures and major events of the past. Now more than ever, it is time for us to lean into our ancestors and study their words and the ways they moved and navigated white supremacy spaces. They are the blueprint for our liberation and just like our ancestors, we have been created on purpose, with purpose. We are Black History and Black History is now.  

HBCUs, cookouts, fraternities, and sororities (I love my DST!). Every time we come together as a collective that is Black History.

From Atlanta to Harlem, Philly to Oakland. Everywhere we are is Black History. 

Patois, Creole, Southernplayalistic. Whatever dialects and modes we use to create and communicate our narratives are Black History.

Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean, Africa, to African American. Whatever heritage from which we draw our strength, our foods, our ways of healing, our celebrations that is Black History.

Our freckles, skin tones, curves, and coils. I stand in admiration.

Is it any wonder why I love Black History? Black History is culture. It’s language. It’s traditions. And, it’s change — and we’re not done. No, far from it.  

YOU are needed. YOU are beautiful. YOU in all of your identities, YOU matter, and YOU, my love, YOU ARE BLACK HISTORY. So what are you going to do about it?

We’re going to continue to show up. Here are a few ways you can show up today, tomorrow, and forever: