"There is no American history without African American history.”
Sara Clarke Kaplan, executive director, American University Antiracist Research & Policy Center (ARPC), 2022 interview with NPR
Happy first day of Black History Month, 2024. Like every February 1st for the past several decades, today marks the day when all of us are invited on a shared, month-long journey to explore ways that African American influence has driven American achievement.
As we celebrate, though, it's also important to look beyond the achievements themselves, and consider the brilliance - and resilience - it took to get there. Far too often, Black innovators, artists, and leaders have gone under-represented by the history books, often remaining underappreciated or misunderstood today. By actively participating in Black History Month, we can help dismantle those misunderstandings, share what we learn, and foster a deeper understanding of American history.
I’ve always appreciated how this shared, nationwide focus on Black History sharpens my focus. This year’s theme, “African Americans and the Arts,” for example, encourages us to look more closely at the art that enriches our lives and appreciate where it came from and what it means. From hearing about the origins of African American spirituals to reading about the concept of Afrofuturism (and its many expressions by different artists, including Jimi Hendrix and Chadwick Boseman), to exploring how generations of Black artists have depicted racism, this is a month for immersing ourselves in deeper perspectives.
The opportunities to learn and celebrate are everywhere
It’s also a month for encouraging our employees to get involved. There are so many ways to bring Black History Month into the workplace and make these educational experiences more accessible to our employees. Even if you’ve never done anything like this before, consider inviting a guest speaker to deliver a presentation on a notable Black artist, their influences, their legacy, and maybe even their connections to your community. Even better, you could organize outings that take you and your team out of your workspace cocoons altogether, to participate in community events. Here are three of our favorite choices at SkyWater Search:
A Series of Events Sponsored by the St. Paul Public Library (SPPL)
Thanks to the St. Paul Public Library (SPPL), there are Black History Month events all over town and online. They range from panel discussions to yoga experiences, to gallery exhibits, including:
- An Elder’s View: a virtual gathering, February 1, 2024, Noon-2:00 p.m., featuring a performance by Elder Gwen Ellis and panel discussion with Local Elders: Dr. Mahmoud El Kati, Vusumuzi Zulu, Gwen Matthews, Charles Caldwell, and Mari Harris, each of whom “have made incredible contributions in the Artistic World as an African American educator, historian, author, storyteller, singer, performer and artist. From jazz to hip-hop, from poetry to painting, we'll hear about their greatest successes and challenges as African American creatives.
- Centering the Mind and Body, a Day of Healing: an in-person and virtual gathering February 15, 2024, Noon-1:30 p.m., focusing on the importance of self-care, within the context of Ubuntu, the concept that we are all connected and therefore, each of our actions affect our whole society. This event will include a virtual guided meditation and yoga experience. “Check out our presenters. A Centering Meditation by "Daughter of Rah" Shawnte Williams and A Relaxing Yoga Experience by "The Zen Bin" Sierra Carter.”
- The Gallery, an in-person event at Rondo Library, February 29, 2024, 3-7 p.m. in three parts:
- Celebration of African Americans in the Arts and Hands-on Learning with Brother Ghana M'Bayeteaching participants “traditional African Dance and how to play the ancient African Drum,” followed by:
- An information session about “how to get involved and support two amazing Rondo initiatives: “Reconnect Rondo” and “The Rondo Community Land Trust,” followed by an invitation to:
- Gather for History, Music, Art, Food, and More: “We will end the night with a presentation on the History of Hip Hop by Tim Wilson, “Urban Lights Music, Inc.” and a ‘Gallery’ of performances you don’t want to miss!”
Black, Bold and Brilliant, 5 Lessons from Black Educators, Activists, and Thought Leaders
Celebrating Black History in 2024, a virtual, interactive event, February 13, 2024, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., featuring keynote speaker Donte Curtis, owner and leader of Catch Your Dream Consulting. This session will “dive into 5 lessons from black educators, activists, and thought leaders as we celebrate their wisdom and impact in the world. You will be energized and inspired to take action towards a better world for justice and equity.”
Minneapolis Institute of Art
American Gothic: Gordon Parks and Ella Watson (January 6, 2024-June 23, 2024). This free, beautifully curated exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, celebrates the extraordinary, year-long partnership between legendary photographer Gordon Parks and Ella Watson, the government custodian he photographed. This collection of nearly sixty photographs highlights the "unique professional collaboration between two Black federal employees at a crucial juncture in United States history.”
To add to the richness of this experience, you can listen to the Twin Cities’ own Tim Gihring’s The Object podcast, where he explores Park’s lifelong connection to Minnesota that began after the death of his mother. Gihring shares a poignant story about one pivotal moment shortly after Parks, just fourteen years old, was sent to live with his sister and brother-in-law in St. Paul.
Don't Stop There
This is just a fraction of events and resources made available to all of us this month. By following the links we’ve included here, you can easily find so much more.
However far each of us has come in our diversity leadership journey, Black History Month opens the door for us to do better. The act of reaching out, opening our eyes, and using available resources to educate ourselves can be one of the most powerful first steps we can take toward real allyship.