Every year for Black History Month, we dust off the books and stories about what is supposed to be an effort to increase awareness and respect for the contributions of black folks to America. Ideally, knowing that they were not limited to or by slavery and oppression would encourage and uplift a people seemingly mired in struggle. That’s great, but I have another suggestions: change the conversation.

Imagery is a strong and influential tool that has long shaped the reality of a people. What we see, too, has been embraced and duplicated by many. The negative images and imagery for too long have defined and been accepted as normal and ok; neither is accurate, but is accepted as a reality that must be abandoned.

Words are the second biggest influencer; we repeat what we believe to be true, and it serves as a reminder to ourselves and others of what we have been told we are or are not. Yet, much of what we see is no different or worse than that of other races and while that is no justification, it is also not our sole identify. We must stop embracing it as such. We must also stop saying that we are what we may not actually be, or more importantly what we don’t want to duplicated.

We don’t work together. We don’t trust each other. Black men don’t take care of their children. Blah, blah, blah. Every time we repeat these or any of the other numerous negative descriptions (and excuses), we etch them into our lives and into the minds of others. Stop.

Stop saying there are more black men in prison than in college. Stop repeating what you see and hear about black on black crime. Stop saying all the negative things you hear about black people, simply because that is what “they” say. The legacy of excellence, peace and community are there, and need to be embraced and elevated as truth.

And, after you commit to stop embracing and absorbing the image and repeating and becoming the message, then dedicate your efforts to erasing them both by better practices with your people. Speak. Be kind. Be supportive. Take, but give back. Be determined to change the reality that has been created for you and about you to one that is a more accurate reflection of who you are, who we are and all that we are capable of being. From medicine to music, together we’ve done and overcome a lot. We can change this, too.

Start now, and never stop. We are not as bad as they say we are; and only as bad as you believe.