How to celebrate Black History Month - from black people themselves
What is the best way to mark Black History Month at work and personally, not just for the month, but all year round? HR Grapevine spoke to black workers and leaders for their take on this vital topic...
Black History Month (BHM) is October in the UK and Ireland (and February in the US and Canada), and if you’ve been in HR longer than a minute, you’ve probably organised a celebratory or educational event about it. It’s so important for marginalised people groups to feel welcome and to feel a sense of belonging. The first step on that journey is education, which is one of the main aims of BHM.
BHM began in the United States in 1926 when two black men – historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson and Christian theologian Jesse E. Moorland decided to found Negro History Week, planting it in the middle of February because of the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
According to History.com, mayors of cities across the US began marking it and in 1976, not only had it evolved into a month-long celebration of blackness, but then-President Gerald Ford declared it a national holiday. By 1987, prompted by the apartheid in South Africa and the country’s treatment of its black majority residents, the UK and Ireland joined, marking the month of October for its celebrations.
The Black History Month Feb 2023 theme for most countries other than the UK and Ireland, is ‘Black Resistance’ – and it explores how "African-Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms and police killings," according to the organisation’s website.
In the UK and Ireland, the theme is, ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’, highlighting how organisations and individuals will say that black lives matter just as much as white lives, but that the systemic racism still well-documented in the two countries is still a prominent issue.
In order to mark the month, HR Grapevine spoke to black business leaders, workers and diversity & inclusion specialists, to get their take on the month and how to celebrate and promote blackness at work.
Yetunde Hoffman, founder of Solaris, a leadership development programme for black women – Initiatives launched in Black History Month should not be seen as a short-term, quick fix. It can be seen as enough to hold training on racial awareness and unconscious bias, or organise a motivational talk, and think that’s the job done. But this is only the beginning.
We must go further and consider the lasting impact of these activities and align them with our future plans. Identifying the actions to be taken, with whom, when, where and how, helps the spark that is lit this month to become a fire that continually burns.
We need to build workplaces where every single member of staff feels they belong, can be their authentic selves and are valued and respected. It’s imperative that company leaders instil a culture of openness and encourage speaking out in your teams to call out any and all behaviours that harm others.