February is Black History Month in the United States and Canada. This occasion is the perfect opportunity for your company to demonstrate your support of Black employees, your appreciation for Black culture and become an ally to the Black community.
Read on to learn more about this observance and discover Black History Month ideas for work.
Origins of Black History Month
“Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.”
– Susan L. Taylor, journalist
Black History Month is a 28-day (or 29-day on a leap year) recognition of how Black individuals have shaped, carried, enriched, and defined our national culture. It’s a time to sit back and reflect on not just our past, but our present and future, on the hidden figures of history, and on the stories that textbooks often whitewash or erase.
Injustices have, unfortunately, always been here, but along with them so have the trailblazers who have marched, protested, and educated, pointing defiantly at these injustices. This is why Black History Month is so important. Dating back to the abolition of slavery in the U.S. in 1915, its observance was sparked by the establishment by Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland of what is now known as the Association of the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Too this day, the ASALH is dedicated to promoting and celebrating the achievements of Black Americans and of others of African descent.
“I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving up.”
– Rosa Parks
The ASALH designated the second week of February as a week to teach and educate about Black History, and by the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘60s, Black History week grew to cover a month-long period (from February 1st to February 28th or 29th) of education and remembrance. In 1976, American President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month officially. In Canada, Toronto MP Jean Augustine successfully motioned to have the House of Commons recognize Black History Month nationally. Now the month is observed and celebrated by numerous countries.
Black History icons to celebrate in 2022
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
– Barack Obama
- Sojourner Truth: abolitionist who escaped from slavery.
- Frederick Douglass: social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.
- Booker T. Washington: educator, author, orator, and adviser to several presidents of the United States.
- W. E. B. Du Bois: sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer, and editor.
- Carter G. Woodson: historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
- Zora Neale Hurston: writer, anthropologist, and folklorist.
- Langston Hughes: poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist.
- Katherine Johnson: the “human computer” who facilitated the first U.S. spaceflights.
- James Baldwin: novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist.
- Shirley Chisholm: the first African-American woman to be elected into Congress.
- Maya Angelou: poet, author, and civil rights activist.
- Martin Luther King Jr.: civil rights activist.
- Toni Morrison: novelist.
- Muhamad Ali: professional boxer, activist, entertainer, poet, and philanthropist.
- bell hooks: author, feminist, and activist.
Why is it important to recognize Black History Month in the workplace?
“Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.”
– Ola Joseph
We are stronger together than we are apart. However, being truly inclusive means recognizing the differences between us. Diversity and inclusion are proven to deliver positive outcomes in the workplace for both workers and the company as a whole.
It is an undeniable fact that Black individuals face discrimination in the workplace. This means that unless you are openly inclusive, you leave room for them to feel as though they are on the periphery. Observing Black History Month in the workplace sends a clear message that your workplace is one that is safe for them.
How can you support Black History Month in your workplace?
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
– Shirley Chisholm
Maybe you’ve been celebrating Black History Month since your company’s inception. Or maybe 2022 will be your first foray into this observance and you aren’t sure how to celebrate Black History Month at work. No matter the case, you want to make sure you hit the right notes. Here are some Black History Month celebration ideas to consider.
Learn (and unlearn) with your team
Important as it is to listen to POC colleagues about their lived experiences, it’s also important that non-POC employees become active agents of change so that they foster meaningful relationships with and become allies to their colleagues. In other words, bring all employees into the mix. In speaking with Human Resources Director Magazine, Tamisha Parris, founder of the diversity consulting firm Parris Consulting, said that an effective way for HR professionals to have employees participate in Black History Month is by having them take turns educating and being educated. Employees can create educational Black History Month content on a preassigned or chosen topic, and present it to colleagues and the organization. This approach will have participants contributing and learning actively.
It’s important to foster open and respectful dialogue when learning because this will allow for everyone to feel safe and heard, and ultimately it will have your team learning lessons they will take with them into the rest of the year. After all, Black History is so rich and nuanced, it takes more than just one month to appreciate all that these thinkers and artists have given us.
Host a diversity, equity, and inclusion seminar
Most people don’t see themselves as exclusionary. However, microaggressions and unconscious biases can often leave Black employees feeling pushed out and devalued. With the right seminar, you can help all employees move beyond merely tolerating differences and instead get them to embrace differing viewpoints and experiences.
View our Black History Month collection for seminar ideas.
Create a book club
This is a great Black History month activity for adults. Empathy is an essential skill when it comes to a diverse and inclusive workplace. And one of the best ways to foster it is to help all your employees get into the heads of those different from them. One way of accomplishing this is through a book club or novel study. Select literature from a Black author – fiction or non-fiction – and help transport your team to a place of greater understanding.
Bring in Black subject matter experts
Whatever industry your business is in, there are Black subject matter experts ready to come to your workplace or lead a virtual workshop. By platforming Black individuals in your industry, you both further their careers and make it clear to your Black employees that you support them in reaching this same level of expertise.
Volunteer with a Black-run non-profit organization
Volunteering is a great way to get into the larger community, dig deep into different cultures, and bond as a team while you go. Offering your support to a Black-run non-profit organization ensures that the help you offer is being directed by those who understand the needs of the people they serve while also helping platform Black thinkers and innovators.
You can get some ideas on supporting the Black community here.
With these Black History Month activities, you can show your support of the Black community while pulling your team together. Celebrate with Black History Month activities and appreciate the ways Black individuals have shaped our world.