For Coventry Royster Cowens, co-founder of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery in Minneapolis, February is always busy with daily tours of the institution's numerous exhibits.

"As you can imagine, our museum has been a focus for citizens and schools during Black History Month," she told me.

The institution she leads aims to highlight the unique history of the Black community in Minnesota. I know now that it is a vital endeavor, especially for its impact on our youth.

When I was younger, however, I had a complicated relationship with Black History Month. As a student journalist at Minnesota State University, Mankato, in 2005, I supported the termination of Black History Month in a piece titled, "Lack History Month: Part II."

"I will again call for the end to Black History Month and an immediate incorporation of black history and the history of other [BIPOC] groups as a part of the American social and scholastic curriculum," I wrote then. "And since a quarter of the American population is [BIPOC], then at least 25 percent of our curriculum should be as well."

While I still believe this country lacks the ambition or desire to do more to emphasize Black history, I also disagree with my sentiment from 20 years ago mostly because of the group that Royster Cowens influences with her museum every day: the kids.

"The Black community has been a part of the developing foundation of Minnesota," Royster Cowens said. "Telling the story of our progress and achievements is critical to our youth and their development, and to controlling the narrative of our contributions. We work with many history museums in the state on programs, as well as schools and corporations to make everyone knowledgeable of our history."

For many, February is a performative month where Black history is treated as a sidebar to American history. Others work to diminish its value year-round. But I can't stop the political maneuvering to eliminate books, talks and courses that center diversity. And I won't lose sleep over the bigoted parent groups that have mobilized in recent years based on their purported fears that their children might be harmed by a lesson on Thurgood Marshall or Maya Angelou. I'm now focused on Black History Month's potential impact on the next generation, which makes it both warranted and valuable. The ground our children stand on has been affected by the rich legacy of African Americans who've helped build this state, Royster Cowens said.

"I hope that there will be some enlightenment in regards to the long history and contributions African Americans have made to the state of Minnesota [since] the early 1800s," she said about the offerings of the museum, which began more than five years ago. "We highlight pioneers like Prince Honeycutt in Fergus Falls; women in early businesses and social justice, like attorney Lena Smith; the Great Migration from the South; development of segregated communities in the [Twin Cities]; and Black people's contribution to World War I and II under segregated circumstances. These are the shoulders we stand on and where our communities started. We want people to incorporate into their thinking the achievements and experiences of African Americans in the state of Minnesota."

An exhibit at a museum or a book or a speech or a YouTube video or a TikTok on Black history presented to a child in February could encourage further exploration in the future. In my childhood, Black history was prominent and present. My aunt Sarah had a homemade museum in her basement, which was filled with artifacts including tools used during slavery and pictures of Black heroes. I also had relatives who were among the first African Americans in Milwaukee to achieve success in engineering and business. And my home was filled with books about Black history.

I didn't need February's programming or lessons because I was surrounded by Black history. But that's not the case for everyone, so Black History Month is necessary because it offers a platform for that information.

Royster Cowens said support for her museum — through contributions, donations and volunteer efforts — will ensure the history of African Americans in Minnesota and beyond will have a living space available for all to access. It's also an opportunity for young people — and others — to understand the significance of Black history right where they live.

"Black history is woven into the foundation of America and the museum is an educational resource for the entire state to build on as we go forward," she said. "All citizens should know of our history and contributions from wherever we (they) come from."

As a young writer, I viewed Black History Month as an insufficient way to tell our story. Now, I'm glad young people here and elsewhere can use February to begin to understand how our history has shaped their own.

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and recipient of the 2022 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award for general column writing.