Every year, Americans set aside the month of February to celebrate Black History Month. This is an opportunity for all organizations and individuals to honor the culture and achievements of African Americans—both past and present. Black History Month is about recognizing and celebrating the central role African Americans have played in the shaping of our nation’s history.
What can you do to celebrate Black History Month? Here are 3 ways you and your organization can join the celebration:
1. Educate. Understanding the history of this month is an important first step. Watch this short two-minute video by The History Channel for an excellent overview of how Black History Month was created. You can also jump to the text below.
Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926, as founded by Virginia native and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson. According to the Smithsonian Institute, after completing his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1912, Dr. Woodson realized that many of the contributions made by African Americans were not being taught and in 1916 decided to write a quarterly academic journal covering African American life and history known as The Journal of African American History. Passionate about history, Dr. Woodson felt the awareness of African-American accomplishments and life through education could reduce racism. He pioneered the celebration of Negro History Week during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass whom he felt were instrumental in abolishing slavery in the United States.
The week later became a month in 1976 when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration by urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” (Ford Library Museum).
2. Embrace. Don’t let February pass by like any other month. Make a conscious effort to participate. There are many ways individuals can celebrate this month—from supporting a Black-owned business to reading a Black-authored novel. The NAACP has 28 fabulous ways to celebrate this month.
3. Embed. Don’t just celebrate in February. Celebrate Black history throughout the year. Take the time to purposely learn new information about Black history or ways to promote a more diverse and inclusive environment. During our Diversity Matters workshop, we discuss the term “microaggressions” and their presence in our everyday society. Here is a short lesson on the term by Fusion Comedy.
Organizations should be constantly looking for ways to celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion. Some ideas to consider:
Mentoring: Create mentoring opportunities for newer employees—studies have shown that mentoring opens up career and leadership opportunities.
Spotlight Your Organization’s Black Leaders: Start in your own backyard by showcasing and celebrating your own leaders.
Invite Guest Speakers: Invite accomplished Black leaders and speakers to your organization. This enables your employees to learn from a diverse set of successful professionals.
Assess and Identify Diversity issues: Conduct a Diversity and Inclusion audit to identify ways your organization can improve diversity and inclusion. Commit to taking action on the results.
Hold a Diversity and Inclusion Course: Part of promoting diversity and inclusion is getting everyone on the same page about what it means and what it doesn’t mean. Your employees are essential to creating a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive culture.
We have seen first-hand the positive impact that celebrating Black History Month can afford an organization’s climate. Working in the field of organizational development for many years, we have had the opportunity to work with so many on embracing diversity and performing everyday practices for fostering an inclusive environment. The University of Central Florida performed an audit of their position descriptions to ensure there were no barriers in place for new employee hires or advancement. The Office of Management and Budget completed focus groups to spot check that their human resource management policies were the correct practices to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment. Lastly, Turner Construction implemented a training program for new hires that allowed them to reinforce the importance of diversity and inclusion as one of their core values.
Aside from these important initiatives, we have seen smiles from many employees when an organization or supervisor says the words, “Happy Black History Month.”
Go forth and celebrate!