Black History Month occurs every February to celebrate the contributions Black Americans have made to advance equality throughout the United States. This is a great opportunity for employers to recognize and honor Black culture and accomplishments and to encourage inclusion in the workplace.
Acknowledging this month-long celebration at work gives employees a chance to share personal experiences and gain a better understanding of Black heritage and culture and what it means to be a Black person in America through American history. According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the theme for Black History Month in 2022 is Black Health & Wellness.
How Did Black History Month Become a National Month of Celebration?
The origins of Black History Month began on a much smaller scale in 1915 when Carter G. Woodson, a historian, co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, with the goal of making the accomplishments of Black American people more mainstream. Carter G. Woodson worked with other American historians to ensure that the accomplishments of Black people wouldn’t be discounted or erased in American History.
Then in 1926, Carter G. Woodson pioneered “Negro History Week” during the second week of February so that people could learn about and recognize the contributions Black Americans made in U.S. history. In 1976, President Gerald Ford announced that the entire month of February should be considered Black History Month, and Americans have since celebrated each February for a full month.
Who Does Black History Month Honor?
Although the month of February acknowledges the contributions and accomplishments of all Black Americans throughout the history of the U.S., a few popular notable figures who have made an impact on equality for all include:
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist and minister in the 1950s and 1960s during the civil rights movement. He led numerous non-violent protests to fight for equal rights for all Black Americans. He was responsible for the March on Washington that resulted in the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination against anyone based on race, sex, religion or national origin.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and political activist. She was born in 1875 to former slaves after the Civil War. As she got older, she believed that if Black Americans were educated, they could earn an honest living. In 1904 she opened one of the first schools for Black American girls in Daytona, Florida, which later became Bethune-Cookman College. She was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president. She was an appointed National Advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was also close friends with Eleanore Roosevelt until Bethune passed away.in 1955.
In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges was the first African American student to integrate into an all-white school in Louisiana. On her first day of school, police marshals escorted her into the school building to avoid the angry mob that waited outside. She didn’t know at the time that her first day at school would eventually guide her towards becoming a political activist as an adult.
How To Honor Black History Month at Work
You can help your employees honor Black History Month by providing them with resources so they can further educate themselves on the history of Black Americans, as well as celebrating each other’s racial and cultural backgrounds in the workplace. They can expand their awareness of the Dimensions of Difference and make efforts to ensure that everyone feels their work environment is safe and welcoming for people of all backgrounds.
Providing education can also create a sense of community among employees and positively influence the company culture so that it honors diversity and inclusion. Here are a few ideas to help you educate employees and celebrate Black History Month at work:
Invite Guests To Speak on Inclusion and Diversity
Consider bringing in guest speakers to share their experiences and wisdom with your employees. At Pope Consulting, we offer keynote speakers, coaching and instructor-led training so employees can learn more about topics such as unconscious bias and ways your workplace can be more inclusive.
Support Black-Owned Businesses
One way to honor Black History Month at work is by supporting local Black-owned businesses. You can do this by providing employees with lunches purchased from Black-owned restaurants or offering a small stipend to each employee, suggesting they use the money to purchase something from a Black-owned business. They can buy themselves a meal or purchase a handmade t-shirt from a Black local artist.
Incorporate Black Literature
Try promoting some classic and contemporary works of literature by Black authors. Because many authors lived through their own personal stories of oppression, they provide a deep insight into some of their experiences of persecution, protests and victories. For the month of February, you can encourage employees to be part of a book club for Black History Month that acknowledges their powerful works of literature. Organizations can also provide a list of books, documentaries and movies that deal with Black health disparities that continue today, or the unethical medical experiments that occurred in the U.S.like the Tuskegee Study (Miss Evers’ Boys).
Donate to a Cause
Another way to celebrate Black History Month is by contributing to a foundation that gives back to the Black community. As a company, you and your employees can choose a charity you’d like to donate to and accept donations throughout the month. Another option is allowing employees to choose an organization of their choice that fights for the rights of the Black community so they can donate to a cause that they support.
What are employers doing for Black History Month?
Other roles within the organization, such as senior management and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) officers can take additional training to learn new strategies that can make the workplace even more inclusive for employees. Pope Consulting offers a variety of options that can help your business develop and retain employees from diverse backgrounds. Depending on your needs, we can speak with your senior management regarding ways they can achieve a competitive edge when attracting new employees, or how to understand and manage unconscious bias.
Whether your employees work remotely or in person, you can still celebrate Black History Month with them. If you’re looking for ways to honor Black History Month, consider contacting Pope Consulting to speak with your company to facilitate healthy conversations about the importance of the month and how it relates to the workplace. Collaborate with your HR team to determine what will work best for you and your employees so you can celebrate in a way that will be most impactful and leave a lasting positive impression.