The origins of Black History Month go back to 1915, when historian Carter G. Woodson teamed up with Jesse E. Moorland, a minister, to create the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which was designed to research and publicize the achievements of Black Americans, as well as other people of African descent. The culmination of this work was the development of Negro History Week in 1926—a week of acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions that Black people have made to American life. Over the years, the work of ASALH grew in popularity—with cities around the country recognizing Negro History Week—until in 1976, Black History Month was designated in February by President Gerald R. Ford.
Today, this month is still a time for Black Americans around the country, as well as their allies, to reflect on the accomplishments of the community and share vital stories about Black heroes past and present. If you're striving to build an inclusive workplace, it's important to recognize the value in celebrating Black History Month as a company, which will not only benefit the African-American employees you have, but also your entire workforce. There are several good reasons to observe Black History Month at work:
- Celebrating diversity: Diversity isn’t something you just say your company supports in order to get good press—it's something you have to incorporate into your daily operations. Celebrating Black History Month is one significant way you can make diversity part of your company’s culture.
- Encouraging a deeper understanding of the Black experience in America: People from different backgrounds may work together, but are not necessarily aware of what their colleagues who are members of underrepresented communities experience on a daily basis. When you celebrate Black History Month in your workplace, you give your Black employees the opportunity to share their experiences, and other employees get the chance to learn from them and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be Black in America.
- Promoting unity: By sharing our stories, we understand each other better and become more unified. As a result, dedicating time this month to telling the stories of the Black community can help unify your workforce and make it stronger—which will help boost employee satisfaction, innovation, and retention.
How to Celebrate Black History Month at Work
There are several meaningful ways that your organization can celebrate Black History Month, which will go a long way toward creating a more inclusive work environment, while forming an employer brand that promotes diversity and attracts the best talent. The following are some ideas you can implement this month—and continue throughout the year—to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
1. Support Black-Owned Businesses
Chances are there are several Black-owned businesses in your area you can support during your Black History Month celebrations. If you're planning a team lunch, have it catered by a Black-owned restaurant. If there are Black-owned shops in your community, encourage your employees to patronize them. Supporting Black businesses in this way can help you form long-term relationships with members of the community, while contributing to the economic empowerment of those who may need an extra boost.
2. Donate to an Organization Dedicated to the Black Community
There are several organizations that focus on the needs of Black people that you can donate to. From achieving racial justice to providing funds for college education to promoting job opportunities, there are several organizations that address the political, educational, and economic needs of the Black community. Find out from your employees which organizations they would be interested in contributing to and organize a fundraiser this month to benefit them.
3. Volunteer at an Organization That Helps the Black Community
In addition to donating money to a charity, you can give back to your local area by using company volunteer days to help an organization that benefits the Black community. There are organizations where you can help children and adults alike, which will promote diversity and provide a fulfilling experience for employees as you help people in need.
4. Create a Black Employee Resource Group
The first employee resource group, or ERG, was created at Xerox in 1964 in order to give Black employees a space to discuss their concerns about the discrimination they were experiencing at the company. If your organization doesn’t have an ERG for Black workers, now is a good time to establish one so these employees can support each other. Also, you can have a member of the executive team attend the ERG’s meetings so decision-makers are aware of the issues Black employees have at your company and you can effectively work together on long-term solutions.
5. Start a Black Mentorship Program
Mentoring is a powerful way to help people from underrepresented communities get the chance to advance in their careers. Mentoring can take several forms, such as a program for employees in entry-level positions to get support from the managerial team or internships for Black students to prepare them for the realities of the workforce. You can also contribute to an existing mentoring program in the community that helps young people become familiar with your industry and what it takes to succeed after they've completed their education.
No matter what activities you decide to participate in this month, celebrating Black History Month is a powerful way to encourage inclusion in your organization and show your community that Black lives really do matter to your company. This will not only increase the satisfaction of your current workforce, but will also make your company an attractive choice for job seekers.
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