The month of February was officially recognized by the U.S. Congress as Black History Month (BHM) in 1986. What started as a week-long commemoration of the end of slavery and a salute to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas in 1926, has now become a month-long celebration of Black innovation and achievement. Black History Month is an opportunity to go beyond (but not avoid) the history of slavery, discrimination, and trauma that has plagued the Black community for centuries. It is a time to spread knowledge about the Black leaders and heroes, known and unknown, that have not only impacted Black culture but the entire world.
Why Celebrating Black History Month in the Workplace is Important
The sad reality is that schools around the globe spend a short amount of time on Black history. Due to the lack of time students spend learning the history of African Americans, many adults, of all races, have a limited amount of knowledge about the struggles and triumphs of Black people throughout the years. Celebrating Black History Month at work can welcome a new perspective and grant insight to people who were unaware or blind to the cruel oppression Black people have had to, and still are, overcoming.
Most companies chose not to talk about race. They are making a huge mistake. It is true, talking about race can be a really sensitive subject, especially in the workplace. It doesn’t have to be though, mainly when the results of not having conversations about ethnic and cultural differences can be detrimental to a positive work environment. Avoiding these conversations in the workplace silos underrepresented employees. All employees should be able to openly discuss, embrace, and be proud of their differences as long as it is in a respectful way.
When employees can freely talk about their differences, they feel included, respected, and valued. They are happier. An employee that is happier and has a work environment that they are comfortable in is more engaged and productive.
What Personify Is Doing to Celebrate BHM
Here at Personify, we are celebrating Black History all year long. The Culture Team has kicked off the month with weekly internal newsletters. The newsletters are centered around themes that include: The History of Black History Month, Television and Cinema, Freedom Fighters and Activists, and Science, Math and Technology. In the newsletters, we highlight Black people and Black organizations that have made significant contributions to the featured theme. We also include random little-known facts. In the Television and Cinema-themed newsletter, we included important movies and documentaries to watch. In the Freedom Fighters and Activists newsletter, there was a Required Reading section full of books by Black authors.
In the months to come, we will share content on Personify’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) website. Our DEI Team has made a beautiful website that is full of great content. The site has recipes, music, poems, movies, and books by creators of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. During the year, we will share lists of Black-owned businesses to support and Black organizations to donate to. One of the cool features of the DEI SharePoint Site is employees can submit content to our DEI team to be featured on the website. This gives the site a good variety of interesting content for everyone to enjoy.
To make an even bigger impact, our Director of People Operations, Addy Robinson, is working on researching and identifying a DEI strategic partner.
What Your Workplace Can Do to Celebrate
The most important thing you can do is: SOMETHING. It’s not too late to send an email acknowledging its Black History Month, at the very least. If you have the time and the ability to do more, do more. Ask your employees for volunteers. You’ll be surprised at who is willing to help. Here’s a short list of things you can still try to pull together this year or save for next year:
- Host a Panel Discussion with Influential and Professional Speakers– This is a great way for companies to encourage healthy conversations around race, racism, and racial inequality with people that have the expertise. Make sure you have a diverse panel.
- Organize a DEI Training– No matter how “woke” you think you are, there is always something more you can learn. DEI trainings help employees to become aware of any barriers they may have regarding diversity and inclusion and work to eliminate them.
- Host a Trivia Day– See how much your employees know. Make it fun. Create a Jeopardy or Family Feud-inspired game based on Black History. Maybe even give out prizes as an added incentive.
- Volunteer at a Black Organization– Time is our most valuable resource. Give a little of it to an important cause and watch how good you feel. Try to find Black organizations that align with your company’s mission and values. Consider providing paid volunteer days for employees to give time to support a Black organization.
- Make a Donation to a Black Organization– Put your money where your mouth is. So many Black organizations are underfunded. Your company’s contribution can truly make a difference. If you’re able, implement a matching donation program where the organization matches the donations that employees make.
- Collaborate with Black employees that are willing to share ideas on how they would like to celebrate Black History Month– Ask your Black employees what they would like to see happen but realize all of them may not want to participate. Black history isn’t pretty and some aspects of it may be triggering.
- Reflect on how your company handled the racial tension in 2020– What measures did you take in the workplace to make sure everyone was comfortable? What could you have done differently? Believe it or not, these questions matter the most. Black employees don’t want or need an annual reminder that they exist. Acknowledge them year–round. This means when racial injustice happens in the news, check in with your Black employees and show empathy. Beyond just your Black employees, recognize that racial injustices have an emotionally draining effect on every one that believes “all people were created equal.”
Black history is American history. It’s important and relevant. Black History Month should be acknowledged and celebrated, even in the workplace…and especially in the workplace. The internet has many valuable resources and ideas to get you started. You don’t have to stay restricted to this list. Remember: There is only one way to celebrate Black History Month wrong and that’s not to celebrate it all.
Happy Black History Month!