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5 Things To Remember About Celebrating Black History Month


The month of February has long been dubbed the celebratory month for African-American History.  Its origin can be traced back to Carter G. Woodson who is affectionately called the Father of Black History Month.  His legacy includes the creation of Negro Week, which eventually morphed into a month-long celebration of achievements of African-Americans.  To read more about Mr. Woodson, visit http://www.biography.com/people/carter-g-woodson-9536515 .  Today Black History Month is celebrated in Canada as well as the United Kingdom.

Many people still don't know or appreciate the significance of Black History Month, even though its been celebrated since 1976.  Eleanor Roosevelt said "there are many cultures in the world . . . If we try to understand one, we can understand the universe".  Imagine being a guru on just one culture - Black culture - 365 days of the year.  A lofty goal indeed as most Blacks themselves don't understand their culture 100%.  Black History Month is not only an opportunity to build awareness around achievements of African-Americans for those outside the race but also for those of Black Heritage.  There is a sense of pride in seeing the achievements of those that you can relate to.  Similarly, there's a sense of awe in learning about the impact of African-American achievements.  Did you know that Garrett Morgan, African American Inventor, invented the traffic signal?

5 Things to Remember About Celebrating Black History Month:

·      African American achievements should not only be celebrated in February.  Organizations have the opportunity to learn and embrace achievements continuously.  However, taking time out in February to highlight the achievements of your employee base as well as your customers is beneficial for all.  Consider surveying your employee and customer base for ideas on how they would like to see Black History Month celebrated.  Be open to creative suggestions that highlight the celebration of similarities and differences.  You might be impressed to see the employee engagement and participation around bringing "Showtime at the Apollo" to your organization. 

·      Encourage integrated celebrations across departments in the organizations.  This means Black History Month isn't a celebration touted just by the Human Resources, the Diversity Practitioner or your Employee Resource Groups.  At my former company, the Information Systems function spearheaded the invitation of cultural speakers on a monthly basis to drive education on a lower level. They had a speaker come in to talk about Black History Month and also tailored the lunch menu offering leveraging a diverse supplier. 

·      Peel back the onion on African-American identity. Taking the time to recognize that not all Blacks identify themselves as African-Americans is important.  For example, visible traits of Black people from the Caribbean residing in the United States could lead one to assume that they are African-American.  However if you speak to them, you will quickly learn that they associate more readily with their Caribbean heritage.  Thus, there is the opportunity to showcase the complex level of Black History so that it is all-inclusive and not just focused on African-American history.

·      Your internal community has achievements that can be showcased.  A call to action can yield access to invisible talents you weren't aware of.  Your organization could be hiding musicians, pastors, actors, entrepreneurs, etc.  Drawing attention to history inside the organization is equally as important as showcasing external influences.

·      Black History Month is about unifying the community.  There is an opportunity to bring Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) together to leverage knowledge talent, and cultural experiences.   One example of how this plays out during Black History Month could involve a partnership between the Black (African-American) ERG and the LGBT ERG coming together to drive education and awareness programming about being Black and gay.  Diversity practitioners often leverage ERGs as part of their strategy to continuously build cultural understanding and awareness. This works because there is usually a high level of passion in an ERG to share their culture with the masses. ERGs are more apt to draw attention to Black History Month or other related holidays wherein there's a connection via the resource group (i.e. Women's Month, Asian Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, etc.)

Leveraging Black History Month to build understanding and awareness about Black culture (i.e. successes outside the celebrity realm, insights into Blacks that aren't considered African-Americans, or even insights about the consumer) is an invaluable opportunity for companies. Organizations that invest the time in celebrating Black History Month send a clear message to their employees and customers that they care about cultural competency.  Cultures make up the organization and where there is appetite for understanding and appreciating diverse cultures, there is opportunity to excel in the workplace and marketplace.  Sodexo, Macy's, American Airlines, Pepsi, Ford Motor Company are among the companies openly communicating their commitment to celebrate Black History Month.  How will your organization celebrate [next year]?

Simone Morris served as an ERG Member, Co-Chair, Chair and Advisor to Employee Resource Group Leaders.  She has been recognized for her exemplary Employee Resource Group Leadership skills by her previous employer Diageo North America, Diversity Best Practices, and Diversity MBA Magazine.
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