Black History Month, a celebration of African American contributions to our country and world, started back in 1926 and has been recognized by every U.S. President since Gerald Ford in 1976.
As a person who prioritizes inclusion and diversity both personally and professionally, Black History Month is a heightened awareness and learning opportunity for me to acknowledge the central role African Americans have played in U.S. history.
It is a time to learn “beyond the history book” for our individual knowledge and shared knowledge with our families and others in the workplace. For example, most everyone knows about Rosa Parks, one of the most famous faces of the civil rights movement. But 9 months before Rosa refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery bus, a brave high school student, Claudette Colvin, refused to move to the back of the bus. The 15-year-old was arrested and jailed on March 2, 1955 and was one of four women who challenged the segregation law in court.
During a civil rights bus trip I took in 2018 with my church, we visited Bryant’s grocery store site in Money, Mississippi where the tragedy of Emmett Till began. The 14-year old boy from Chicago was visiting his cousins in August 1955 when he was accused of harassing a local white woman at her grocery store. Emmett was murdered in a heinous attack, and through the bravery of his mother through his death, sparked the civil rights movement. If you don’t know this story, visit www.Emmett-till.org or watch the documentary The Murder of Emmett Till on PBS.
This gruesome history is all too common, as I woefully learned at the National Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, AL. Founded by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the memorial acknowledges the lives and past racial terror in the U.S., as well as honors the documented 4,400 victims of lynching in America. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the EJI, was “inspired by the examples of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, to create a single memorial to victims of white supremacy in the United States.” Stevenson, a prominent attorney and social justice activist, was depicted in the 2019 hit movie Just Mercy, a legal drama based on his memoir, telling the story of Walter McMillian.
Last year, my family visited the Landmark for Peace, the Kennedy-King memorial in downtown Indianapolis. The civic sculpture commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in the spot where RFK’s speech calmed thousands on the night of King’s assassination. Last night, my youngest daughter asked when we can go back to the “hands memorial” again, so our family will be visiting this month.
Learning about black history, our history, helps better inform us of the world we live in. And helps us better understand those around us. Acknowledging our history, learning more in-depth about our country’s heroes, victims and contributors, makes us all more equipped to be allies in our daily lives.
What do you do personally, with your family, or professionally through your company or volunteer opportunities, to celebrate and acknowledge Black History Month? Whether you read a book, watch a movie, have a conversation with someone different than you, or visit a memorial, making Black History Month part of your story makes a difference.
It’s always a good time to think about diversity and inclusion in your workplace, but times like Black History Month bring it to the top of our minds. If you’re interested in learning more about inclusion training for your team or could use some help creating a diversity and inclusion plan for your organization, please reach out to Purple Ink, or me directly.