Will we denounce Black History Month this year?
Guest Blog by: Stephanie Knight, CEO, Colorado Inclusive Economy & CTLF Board of Advisors
As I look toward February and Black History Month, it truly gives me an uneasy feeling as I believe we are living in a climate that applauds cancel culture of all things black. With the “dialing back” of DEI and the ever-present campaign to besmirch prominent African Americans in this country, as well as the tearing down of black for-profit investment being legally challenged (like the Fearless Fund and others) I wonder how companies and the public at large will participate in Black History month this year.
As an enterprising seventh grader at EL Rancho, Junior High in Anaheim Hills, California, I will never forget the warm reception I received when I asked the school librarian if I could create a Black History Month exhibit of posters that could be featured in the school library. The school librarian, a mature white female, said she would check with the principal, but thought it was a great idea. Later, in less than a week, she got back to me and gave me the full green light and thumbs up.
I spent hours gathering contemporary African American magazines (Ebony, Jet, Essence, Black Enterprise, Savoy, and Black Beat) as I was confident each magazine would do a spread and a pictorial featuring blacks of significance that were contemporary, as well as those of historical accomplishment. I remember my room being a mess of clippings, markers and poster board cutouts, as I wanted to create an inviting colorful poster board exhibit full of important Black Americans. As a black student, of which I was only one of ten at El Rancho Junior High (the other one being my sister) I felt a lot of pressure to do a stellar job, “to represent” to be a part of black excellence as I represented black excellence to my peers. Little did I know how many times personally and professionally I would have this same angst, from being the only African American Board Member in many nonprofit organizations, to be the first black CEO in a nonprofit role, to being a small business owner providing professional IT services in some of the most affluent zip codes in southern California.
The experience of creating, crafting and being allowed to display my Black History Month poster boards was one I will never forget. I felt so much pride in sharing the exceptionalism of the African Americans I featured, with their full range of impressive academic backgrounds, atypical accomplishments and trail blazing work.
I fast forward to February 2024, where recognizing, and featuring notable African Americans from all walks of life, and multiple sectors, should continue to be celebrated, but ask, will they? Have we become so divisive, politically paralyzed, fearful of being perceived as “woke”, inclusive and progressive that we will abandon the importance of this month? Will companies back away from providing spaces for black employees to share, in unique ways, during the month? Will they suspend featuring Black History Month in their newsletters and company communications because it is now viewed as controversial and splintering? I don’t know, but I hope not.
Now more than ever, for Black History Month – 2024 do we need to create a big splash, highlight important black historical figures and contemporaries, shop black, donate black and hold space for important dialogues that support the themes of Black History Month. This representation continues to be critical for a people that have endured decades of disenfranchisement, devaluing and displacement. Let’s commit ourselves to remain courageous, fortified against opposition and celebrate the many, many contributions of a beautiful diverse group of people while availing ourselves to an array of Black History events, lasting social moments and community happenings this year.
Please join us on February 7th for our ReThink Happy Hour – Leading From the Middle: Where DEI is Made or Broken to hear more from Stephanie, our moderator Yolanda Webb, and our other expert panelists. MORE INFORMATION HERE