Black History Month 2021: 12 great ways to celebrate

Black History Month 2021 kicks off on February 1—here's how to honor the event all month long

 U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive together for The Inaugural Ball
(Image credit: Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

It's the first of February, which means Black History Month 2021 is here! And if there's ever been a time to celebrate Black-Americans and all that they have contributed to this country, it's now. 

The past year brought up much-needed conversations about the institutionalized racism and everyday oppression faced by the Black community, violence and injustices that have been woven into the fabric of America since its creation. The worldwide protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement—galvanized by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery—proved that the civil rights movement in this country is far from over. (The BLM movement has since been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.)

While it is imperative to get your feet on the ground and have your support for Black-Americans heard at protests, boycotts and, importantly, the voting booth, there are plenty of ways to champion your fellow citizens—socially and economically—from the comforts of home. Whether educating yourself on the real history of America, shopping at Black-owned businesses or donating to anti-racism efforts, here are a dozen ways to honor Black History Month 2021.

What is Black History Month?

The origins of Black History Month, a federally recognized celebration of the contributions of Black-Americans to the United States, stretch back to Carter G. Woodson. 

A Harvard-educated author and historian known as the "Father of Black History," Woodson and his Association for the Study of African American Life and History proposed a "Negro History Week" back in 1926, in an effort to spotlight Black-American history in education curriculums across the country. 

Fifty years later, during the height of the civil rights movement, then-President Gerald Ford expanded the weeklong celebration into Black History Month. 

When is Black History Month?

Carter G. Woodson originally chose the second week of February for "Negro History Week" to coincide with the birthdays of two American icons: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Forty-five years ago, President Ford expanded the event to run throughout the entire month of February; it has been recognized during the second month of the year by every U.S. president ever since. 

How to celebrate Black History Month 2021:

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1. Fill your bookshelves with the lives of Black women

'Tis the season to cuddle up with a good book, so take the opportunity to pick up one centered on and penned by Black-American women. Memoirs including "Just As I Am" by the late, great Cicely Tyson, "Men We Reaped" by Jesmyn Ward, "Hunger" by Roxanne Gay and "Becoming" by First Lady Michelle Obama are all great starting points. 

2. Spend a night at the museum—digitally!

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is offering a wide range of digital programs this February, including a discussion between author-scholars Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain on their newly released book, "Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019." Other events include a virtual version of "A Seat at the Table," a discussion of race, justice and mass incarceration over a meal. 

3. Load up on beauty from Black-owned brands

With Black women in the C-suites and more expansive shades on the shelves, the beauty world has thankfully become more inclusive. Help it be even more so by buying beauty products and skincare items—from the best vitamin C serums around to the best brushes for curly hair—from Black-owned brands, such as B. Simone, Pat McGrath, Juvia's Place, Fenty Beauty and Mented Cosmetics. 

4. Stream a Black-directed movie marathon

This past year was full of treasures when it comes to Black film. Many 2020 movies are getting serious Oscar buzz, so host a movie marathon of streaming gems like Regina King's "One Night in Miami," George C. Wolfe's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods" and other Black-directed movies to catch up on before award season starts.

A young woman with a paintbrush

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5. Decorate your home with Black art

Scour affordable art sites like Etsy, Society 6 and Minted for prints, photography and inspirational wall art created by talented Black artists. They'll get some much-deserved support and your décor will get a jolt of color and life. Win-win!

6. Research an unsung hero of Black history

You no doubt already know about icons like Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kamala Harris. But there are countless Black-Americans who also deserve time in the spotlight. Take time to delve into the lives of fellow Black History heroes like Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress; Bessie Coleman, the world's first licensed Black pilot; and Ethel Waters, the first Black-American to star in her own TV show. 

7. Diversify your social feeds with Black creators

The intentions of last year's #BlackoutTuesday were noble, even if the execution left a little to be desired. But elevating Black voices across your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok feeds is a super-easy way of adding some always-welcome diversity and inclusivity to your everyday scroll sessions. 

8. Order meals from a Black-owned restaurant

Most restaurants have taken quite a financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic, but Black-owned restaurants even more so. According to data out of the University of California, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses shuttered since February 2020, compared to 17 percent of white-owned businesses. Give your local Black-owned kitchens and cafes a boost by ordering directly from them for your next take-out meal. 

Portrait of chef in commercial kitchen looking at camera smiling

(Image credit: Getty)

9. Pay homage to BHM origins with this virtual fest

Who better to celebrate Black History Month with than the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which Carter G. Woodson founded all those years ago? The ASALH's 95th annual Black History Month festival will be fully virtual for the first time this year, meaning you can attend open-to-the-public digital events like an author talk with astronaut Mae Jemison (the first Black woman to travel in space!) and a panel discussion on food traditions in the Black-American family. 

10. Fill your Spotify playlists with Black voices

If your Spotify playlists aren't already filled to the brim with Beyoncé, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Alicia Keys and Rihanna tracks, the music app's ongoing "Black History is Now" campaign will definitely have you clicking those little heart buttons on songs, spoken word pieces and podcasts from Black artists. Celebrating the global impact of Black music, the campaign bridges contemporary and classic performers, from Lauryn Hill to Nina Simone. 

11. Dive into documentaries spotlighting Black history

Equal parts enlightening movies and educational tools, documentaries are an invaluable way to dig into critical moments in Black history, and the brave figures behind them. "John Lewis: Good Trouble," "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson," "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise" and the James Baldwin-based "I Am Not Your Negro" are all well worth a watch. 

12. Donate to anti-racism and equality efforts

If 2020 proved anything, it's that anti-racism work is vital for our country's survival. And putting our money where our mouth is is one of the simplest ways to show support. So, choose a Black-led cause that you're passionate about—the Black Youth Project, say, or the Black Mamas Matter Alliance—and donate those dollars!