Contributors: Daniel Oppong, Michael Polite, Nani Vishwanath, Sunday Helmerich
An excerpt of this article was featured in TIME.
When first founded as Black History Week (in 1926), commemorative events were organized to promote rich rhetorical, educational, and artistic expressions that highlighted the achievements of Black people. When established as a month-long observance in 1976, the commemoration was expanded to a national celebration of Black culture and achievement.
However, many organizations have used this time to focus on educating their populations on problems and issues that still harm and marginalized members of the Black community. Where the focus on painful experiences is necessary and needed throughout the year, it should not be positioned as the primary driver for Black History Month initiatives, events, or programs. It was founded with the intent to uplift and inspire despite the presence of brutal oppression.
With that in mind, before we get to meaningful ways to celebrate Black History Month, let’s get clear on a few things Black History month is not….
Black History Month is Not…
- An opportunity to ask Black folks to teach everyone else about the Black experience
- The only time of year that organizations should celebrate and consider the Black experience
- A quick way for companies virtue signal a commitment to DEI
- A replacement for doing the real work within your organization
- A time to only discuss the pain and suffering of the Black community
Now that we’re on the same page about what BHM is not, here are some great ideas for infusing honor and enthusiasm into your Black History Month plans this year:
- Artistic expression was a major part of early 20th century celebrations, so look for ways to sponsor art competitions (with significant prizes) where members of the organization are encouraged to generate prose, poetry, visual art, or digital designs that highlight the beauty and bravery of Black culture.
- February offers many external events and shows produced by Black voices. Become a sponsor for one of these events and offer to either subsidize or fully cover the cost for your employees to attend.
- Seek-out recommendations for a book-club read that celebrates the achievements and accomplishments of a Black professional. Don’t just look to the past–seek out contemporary examples too.
- Create meaningful dialogue that highlights the spectrum of the Black experience. Black joy is equally as important as Black resistance and Black resilience.
- Highlight Black Intersectional stories! (e.g. – Black, LGBTQ+, Disabled, etc.) Given that Black people are not monolithic or single dimensional, we should celebrate the beautiful mosaic of Black identities.
- Seek opportunities to center healing, rest and liberation (The Nap Ministry does this well). For so long, Black folks have been told that they have to be twice as good to get half as much. Instead of continuing to place the burden of responsibility on Black folks, we can center healing, rest and liberation by sharing the burden as advocates and allies.
Black History is American History, and instead of seeking to separate it from our present reality (looking at you, Desantis), it’s our collective opportunity to center and celebrate Black culture year round.