Originally named Negro Week in 1926, and founded by Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month is a time to recognize and acknowledge the numerous contributions of African-Americans. In the words of President Gerald Ford, let’s lead and encourage all generations to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Acknowledge the Month: It may be simple to state the obvious, however this is very often difficult to accomplish. Black History Month can stump the most culturally savvy intellectuals, due to the United States’ complicated past. To quote Dr. Frederick Gooding Jr a professor at Northern Arizona University, “acknowledging [black history] for what it is and embracing it head on will allow us not to repeat the mistakes of the past so we can move forward in a new direction.” Acknowledging the past and the work that still needs to be done is a great way to start the conversation.
Be Thoughtful: Be thoughtful of how your acknowledgement manifests both in your personal and business life. Black History Month is an opportunity to reach out to a new market. It’s important to be cognizant of the diverse beliefs and practices held by one race; for example, not every African-American celebrates holidays such as Juneteenth and Kwanzaa. Be mindful of diversity by educating yourself on specific cultural values, instead of generalizations.
Recognize Unsung Heros & Forgotten Figures: In books and movies like Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, and Hidden Figures, unsung heroes emerge, showcasing their invaluable contributions to the advancement of the African-American community. While many of us have read important books like Native Son and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, step outside of your comfort zone and take on a challenging read. Good examples include The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin, and The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. While these books and others may be uncomfortable to read, their insights provide a new viewpoint of what it means to be African-American in this country.
Learn Something New: The experiences of African-Americans have created a culture unique to the black community and experience.Take time this month to visit your local Black Cultural Districts, like Six Square in Austin, TX. Plan travel to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. Curl up at home with popcorn, your favorite beverage and the documentaries available on PBS Black Culture Connection. Consider courses that challenge your thinking about the African-American experience and contributions.
It’s More Than Just a Month: Black history Is More Than a Month. Throughout the year, take the time to practice the ideas presented in steps 1-4. As a business and community leader, it will reflect your willingness to connect in a meaningful way.
Remember that Black history is part of U.S. American history, and we can’t hide from or feel embarrassed about some dark chapters. Changing the mindset of how we view Black History Month, as recognition of those who broke barriers, strove for equality, and fought against injustices- will have a profound impact of being culturally savvy.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her best-selling book Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its second printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. Sharon is the winner of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.