Black History Month (BHM) highlights the achievements of black people and the contributions they’ve made to society. Additionally, BHM is an opportunity to look at the failures, disappointments and setbacks black people have faced. Through the wins and fails, the ups and downs, BHM ultimately exists to celebrate us, black individuals, who are a part of a black whole. This year, our theme for BHM is looking at the power of being a part of a whole, what it means to be in community and why we need it.
What is a community? Simply speaking, it is a group of people connected by one or more traits however, it goes deeper than that. Community is a place where our social relationships are developed and maintained; a factor that affects our emotional health, self-development and integration into the social world as proud members of society.
The core trait of the black community that unifies us all despite different life experiences, backgrounds and lifestyles is our blackness. This blackness is sculpted by shades of brown, rich culture and complex histories which together epitomise the black experience and therefore, the black life. In theory, we were inadvertently born as members of this collective people but the question is, do we identify ourselves as said members?
As with any other feeling or emotion, ‘feeling’ connected to others is a subjective process and therefore, largely psychological. Research suggests that an important factor that defines any community is the psychological sense of community (PSOC) which is dependent on the degree to which individuals identify with that community . The more we identify with others, the more attached we are to them and therefore, experiencing an increased sense of belonging. PSOC consists of four elements: membership, influence, the fulfilment of needs and a shared emotional connection however, the individual’s identification with others largely affects membership and the shared emotional connection. This is because the former affects feelings of belonging and the latter relates to having a ‘shared history’ with others as you continue to experience life with them. So we as black people can only really ‘feel’ a part of the black community when we realise we are accepted and share connections with other black members.
But why does this matter? As humans, we need community to thrive emotionally and mentally. Research shows that access to social support provides protection for individuals under stress and improves overall life satisfaction . In this way, a community forms a safe space for recovery and development and reminds us that we are not alone. BHM gives us the opportunity to look back and share in the victory and loss, to make us remember that we don’t have to be alone because we are a part of a diverse world of black excellence: musicians, economists, writers, models and scientists. Being a part of the community reminds us of the greatness within it and tells us that we too are just as capable of greatness. To know that there are people who look like us who may have gone through what we have gone through at any one time is enough to reassure us that we too shall overcome. This reassurance breeds resilience, endurance and more importantly, hope in ourselves as black individuals.
As important as community is, it would appear as though community is not as straightforward as we think. It’s not enough that we are connected by our blackness but rather, we need to go a step further by striving to develop relationships within our community. We need to remember that we belong and are more alike with others than we think. We can connect to others by identifying with their passions, dreams and struggles and in this way, we not only feel connected, heard and seen but create space for others to feel the same.
Community is the heartbeat of the human soul so without it, we wither away but when we are truly connected, we become a force to be reckoned with. People who are stronger and healthier than ever before.
 Obst, P. L., & White, K. M. (2005). An exploration of the interplay between psychological sense of community, social identification and salience. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 15(2), 127-135.
 Keyes, C. L. M. (1998). Social well-being. Social psychology quarterly, 121-140
Describe what community means to you in a few words down below in the comments!
By Tulela Pea, Editor