More than ever, it is important to create an inclusive environment in organizations so that the best talent will stay and not stray. To do so requires demonstrating, in words and actions, that diversity of all types is welcomed. As February is Black History Month, this is a great opportunity to honor the achievements of African-Americans with education and celebrations.
Black history, which had not been well-documented and shared, has been a journey of discovery.
Case in Point
When Regina E. Mason was given an assignment in fifth grade to learn about her family history, she discovered her homework to be more challenging than any other school task. As a young girl with African American roots, her history was not well documented. When she asked her mother about her family, she learned the painful truth for the first time: Her mother's great grandfather was a former slave.
Regina’s elementary school project ultimately led her to spend 15 years researching her family's past. Because of the lack of documentation on African Americans, she went on an arduous and emotional journey, tapping into relatives' memories of the past and poring over shreds of clues and public records. She learned that her great-great-great-grandfather was the author of what is believed to be the first-ever slave narrative, The Life of William Grimes, The Runaway Slave. Written by Himself, self-published in 1825.
Using his memoir, Regina was able to learn more about her ancestors than most African Americans. She learned that Grimes escaped slavery and became an entrepreneur in New Haven, Connecticut, opening up a successful barber shop. His business was frequented by high-profile residents, according to his obituary published in the local newspaper, recognition rarely given to African Americans at that time. Regina also discovered that Grimes died destitute; when his former slave master tracked him down and demanded that he return to slavery or relinquish his property, Grimes chose his freedom and lost all his possessions.
The Origins of Black History Month
Started in 1926 by the historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to celebrate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, Black History Month is a reminder of the need to learn more about African American history, not only during this month, but on an ongoing basis. It provides a catalyst to celebrate black culture and achievement and renew the call for justice and racial equality.
Black history is more accessible today than it was when Regina Mason began her quest. The Google Cultural Institute Project for Black History, for instance, is an interactive online archive of documents, art, artifacts, and videos and other treasures.
African American history is a vital part of American heritage. We must recognize and honor it fully to continue the quest for equality for all.
What Talent Leaders Can Do
- Provide links to materials on the company's intranet that promote Black History Month awareness.
- Reach out to HR business partners with easy-to-use toolkits/ discussion guides and fact sheets that can be shared within different business units.
- Consider an interactive event in February that all employees will be encouraged to attend.
- Partner with your organization's Employee Resource Groups to identify meaningful ways to celebrate.
- Publicize metrics that demonstrate the organization's progress in Diversity & Inclusion.
- Use Black History Month as a trigger to reinforce the organization's overall commitment to Diversity & Inclusion.
HOW DOES YOUR ORGANIZATION CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH?