‘Black history is American history to me’: Black History Month, a conversation with Phil Tyler

SPOKANE, Wash. — Every February we celebrate Black History Month. But what does it actually mean to celebrate Black history?

Each year, it means reflecting on the triumphs and achievements of Black people in our nation and community’s history. But in 2022, it means so much more.

From 4 News Now’s Destiny Richards:

For Black people, Black history is not limited to a month or what you read about in a history book.

We’re living it every day in our experiences and the Black experience is different for everyone.

That’s why I decided to speak with Phil Tyler, a Black man in the Spokane community who is a part of history as the former, first ever Black lieutenant in the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, the former president of the Spokane NAACP, and now, a community advocate and Crime Prevention & Education Officer at Gonzaga University.

Destiny: Tell me a little bit about what Black History Month means to you as we are in Black History Month — it’s a loaded question!

Phil: It is. But it’s a good question. Because Black history is American history to me.

And as Americans, it provides us an opportunity to really go deeper into our history.

Beyond slavery and racism and the good Reverend Dr. King. It provides us an opportunity to really highlight, to teach, to promote and preserve Black achievement that’s been going on in America.

And I think it still goes on to this day.

Here’s a Black man sitting in a Black-owned coffee shop, ordering his coffee black, the only way I take it, being interviewed by one of the few Black, professional journalists, female journalists in Spokane. That’s history.

Destiny: Yeah exactly. It’s definitely not lost upon me how representation is important. Me being on air everyday and then you out in the community as well. I think that’s really important.

Do you think that the Spokane community, outside of the “Black” community, has done a better job in representation, resources, shining a light on black people at all? How do you think Spokane can do better?

Phil: Statistically we are the minority in Spokane, but that doesn’t mean our voices need to be minority, our stories, our experiences have to be minority. They can be told in formats like this and beyond.

So I think, what we have to do is we have to not be performative in our support of our Black citizens.

Have educational and constructive conversations like you and I are having today and I think that really expands your world view and I think that will help to bring deeper connection in the community and then this really leads to really amplifying the voices that would normally not be heard.

Destiny: You’re very outspoken clearly about, mental health, about suicide prevention. Why is that?

Phil: Personal, lived experience. I lost my son four years ago. He died by suicide.

I think as a father, what I learned from that tragic experience is that I taught my sons, like many a Black mother and father has done to their children, to suppress their emotions.

The late bell hooks in her book “Sisters Of The Yam” talked about depression and suicidal ideation in the Black community and how we ourselves stigmatize those who reached out and asked for help as being weak.

We saw that play out this past week with the former Miss USA and her struggles with being the trope of the “strong Black woman” which is nonsense.

I think for me it told me and taught me at 50-years-old that I have to do better as a parent and other Black parents have to do better.

But how will they know to do better if we’re not talking about it?

Destiny: What do you think is a proper way to celebrate Black History Month?

Phil: During this month, don’t make Destiny or Phil or any other Black man or Black woman that you know your immediate friend for 28 or 29 days of a calendar month.

Endeavor to develop a friendship with them that goes beyond February.

That exists for 365 days of the year because you truly want to engage and learn something about someone that doesn’t look like you. That’s the power of Black history.

Read more Black History Month stories at kxly.com/blackhistorymonth.

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