Black History Month was first observed by Kent State University students a half-century ago. It went national just six years later, during the United States of America’s bicentennial year.

At the time, President Gerald Ford saying that citizens should "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

That’s still a good reason to mark the month. The incredible history of African-American people in our country must be recognized. As Ford noted, that history cannot be separated from every piece of our country’s past and every sector of cultural, academic, political and business accomplishment. We celebrate the accomplishments of generations of activists, leaders and everyday people that led to a country where Barack Obama could be president and where Patrick Mahomes could lead the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl.

History is history, though, not a motivational tale. These incredible successes have to be seen in the context of a country that once, depending on where you lived, embraced or tolerated chattel slavery. And even after the Civil War, Jim Crow meant legally sanctioned discrimination for another century.

And while the election of Obama might have seemed like a turning point, the reactions to his presidency — and in the aftermath of President Trump’s election — suggest that dangerous undercurrents remain in our society. Black families still have less wealth, on average, than white families. You could write books (and many have) on the differences in availability of quality, education, health outcomes and interactions with law enforcement between black people and white people.

This doesn’t negate the progress that has been made, of course. We have much as a country to remember and celebrate this February.

But it should focus our minds on the tasks ahead. Making a country that truly embraces all of its citizens — that doesn’t depend on putting one group or another in the category of “other” — should be a cause that all ages and ideologies unite behind. There can be no space for prejudice or discrimination, and no quarter given to those who would take us backward.

History shows us that progress is real and achievable. But it also shows us that reverses are possible, and that periods of rapid advancement can be followed by decades of inertia. For all our sakes, let’s ensure that history continues to be made.