Black History Month continues to serve as a celebration and acknowledgment of our trials, history and joy.
In the United States, the month of February marks Black History Month—a time when we honor the historic contributions and achievements of Black Americans. Designated by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, Black History Month has since expanded beyond the U.S. and is now celebrated in the U.K., Caribbean, Africa, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands.
While Black History Month often makes us think of the accomplishments and trials of the past, it also gives us an opportunity to consider the Black history happening in the present. In the wake of police brutality and racial discrimination, there is a renewed desire to spotlight and showcase uplifting Black stories—both historic and contemporary.
“We all need a reminder that Black history isn’t about slavery, misery and the suffering from our past,” said April Turner, human resources info systems specialist at Progress and co-leader of the Blacks@Progress employee resource group (ERG).
“It’s about being leaders. It’s about joy and it’s about perseverance,” she continued. “We need to be seen as successful and proud pioneers, champions, hard workers, mothers, fathers, children and families.”
April founded Blacks@Progress with Rochelle Wheeler, campaign manager, in 2020. Rochelle stepped down from her position as co-leader this past year, passing the torch to Janelle Richey, customer success manager, and Errin Staunton, human resources info systems specialist.
“What I loved best about being an originating founder and leader of the Blacks@Progress ERG was exploring and sharing the rich and diverse culture of the Black diaspora,” Rochelle said. “In addition, the leadership opportunity allowed me to meet and build lasting relationships with a plethora of wonderful Progressers that I would have otherwise never encountered.”
For Janelle and Errin, leading Blacks@Progress alongside April means actively sustaining and expanding the group.
“This ERG is well established,” Errin said. “I love the opportunity to assist in its continued growth and engagement.”
“It’s a humbling opportunity to be able to continue the work that has already been set in place by the previous leaders,” Janelle added.
Read on to hear from April, Janelle and Errin about the unwavering significance of Black History Month, the misconceptions surrounding Black history and their plans for the Blacks@Progress ERG.
During Black History Month, we tend to hear a lot about the past. But as Janelle, Errin and April pointed out, there are many examples of Black history that are occurring right now.
“The biggest example that stands out to me, although an unfortunate one, is the disparity of the law(s),” Janelle said. “Black people are still not receiving fair and equitable treatment, and still continue to have to fight to be considered as ‘equals.’”
The recent murder of Tyre Nichols has brought this disparity to the forefront once again, Errin noted.
“Unfortunately, one of the current examples in Black history is the most recent event of a Black life being cut too short,” said Errin. “We should be able to focus on the positives, such as Rosalind Brewer becoming the next CEO of Walgreens and one of the handful of women of color to lead a Fortune 500 organization, or Nicholas Johnson, Princeton’s first Black valedictorian.”
In the U.S., there are also efforts to enhance workplace diversity, as well as a new measure designed to protect against discrimination against race-based hairstyles.
“We are seeing efforts to make changes that we haven’t seen in past around diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” April said. “The Crown (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act was also enacted in 2019. As of February 2023, 20 states have enacted it into law, and more than half have filed or pre-filed legislation for consideration.”
However, for all the change that has occurred, some lessons from the past remain relevant today.
“Unfortunately, there’s a belief amongst some that we are still not considered as human, that we have thicker skin and can tolerate a level of pain that no other race can,” Janelle said. “We laugh, cry, bleed and hurt the same as any other human being.”
Finding common ground is also still essential, Errin stated.
“As long as we don’t work together to overcome our differences, past events will continue to be present and future events,” she said.
While many think they know a lot about Black history and Black historical figures, a deeper dive will show that this isn’t necessarily the case.
“There is so much Black history that is unknown to us because it is not taught,” said April. “We have to ensure that we seek this information out ourselves. Many people were unfamiliar with Juneteenth, including African Americans. From a global perspective, I’ve had international colleagues reach out to say they didn’t realize these atrocities were still happening or at all until George Floyd.”
Additionally, the well-known names aren’t always the only ones we should recognize.
“There’s always more to the story than what’s been passed down over the years,” Janelle said. “Some of the famous figures that were celebrated were not necessarily the first ones to take a particular stance or action.”
A prime example of this is Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person—nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested for the exact same thing. Claudette was young, poor and an unwed teenage mother; at the time, she likely wasn’t seen as an “acceptable” figure for the movement.
“Only those ‘worth’ celebrating are mentioned,” Errin said. “We are so much more than those few who are commonly celebrated. We have much more unheard/unrecognized history than known and/or taught.”
Claudette’s is just one story in history—there are many, many more.
“There is still so much being uncovered about the roles and events that Blacks (globally) have been a part of that are not, and probably will not be, taught in learning institutions,” said Janelle. “There have been so many contributions to societies and inventions that we use every day that were made possible by Black innovators, and those people need to be recognized and presented with their flowers.”
Learning about these contributions in both the U.S. and around the world is critical, Errin noted.
“As we continue to have adverse/life-changing events happen within this and other countries, it is essential to celebrate and educate everyone on the historical and current contributions of those within this race,” she said. “Black History Month is a short but necessary acknowledgment of the rich history of African Americans.”
In their roles as co-leaders of Blacks@Progress, Janelle, Errin and April are eager to continue to open up the dialogue among their coworkers, and hope that transparent conversation leads to meaningful change.
“I’m looking forward to having the hard and uncomfortable conversations in an effort to pave the way to overcome the negative thinking and stereotypes that have been placed on Blacks for all these years,” said Janelle. “There aren’t ‘good Blacks’ or ‘bad Blacks,’ just good and bad people.”
Together with the leaders of Progress’ other ERGs, April, Janelle and Errin will keep working to enhance understanding, inclusion and diversity.
“It has allowed me the opportunity to work closely with not only the members of our ERG, but also the opportunity to collaborate with the leaders of our other ERGs with whom we share common issues,” said April. “ERGs have allowed us to provide a safe place for tough conversations about race and ethnicity as we struggle to understand the troubling events that we see on TV, in the news and sometimes in our own personal lives. I look forward to continuing to work together as we build on this foundation.”
View all posts from Blacks@Progress on the Progress blog. Connect with us about all things application development and deployment, data integration and digital business.
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