“When you are continually reminded that you have little to no value, it’s easy to be convinced that all the rules are stacked against you. Your worst fears are not possible. They are probable.” This quote from a character named Mr. Ibis from the show “American Gods” resonates with many Black Americans and is an illuminating statement for a reason behind Black History Month.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of African Americans’ significant achievements and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Yes, Black history is American history and is unquestionably embedded in the fabric of our commonwealth.
The accomplishments of men and women of color are countless, and we should all be proud of them, not just this month but all year long. Through these heroes’ courageous efforts, significant changes have been made, but we have a long way to go.
As we observe the current civil unrest, we are reminded that changes are still needed, and they will not occur overnight. So, is Black history inextricably linked to a never-ending fight for equality and equity? Let’s hope not. Black business innovations and leadership have pushed us forward as a country and will continue to do so. It is time for us to untie slavery from Black history’s legacy and honor the successes that have and will continue to help us grow as a nation and a commonwealth.
From Madam C.J. Walker’s hair care line in Tulsa to Katherine Johnson helping Americans become the first to land on the moon, pride in Black history should be celebrated. It’s not about skin pigmentation. It’s is about overcoming. Overcoming the racial biases and discrimination that have attempted to stall the brilliant minds and talents of men and women of color.
As President Gerald Ford said, “Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every endeavor throughout our history.” So, let’s pause, reflect and give thanks.
Here’s another interesting point to reflect on during Black History Month. This terrible pandemic has forged a coalition of the willing among many regional organizations to create a recovery plan. Organizations like the Hampton Roads Chamber, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Hampton Roads Alliance, Hampton Roads Workforce Council, and others are working tirelessly to address our region’s economic challenges. I can’t help but think about how civil rights groups laid the foundation for strength in collaboration.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, late Congressman John Lewis, and many other heroes of color understood that the voice of many could make a difference. The power of collective impact has been shown throughout American history and has some of its most vital roots in Black history.
Black history has always been part of our journey. As the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for the Hampton Roads Chamber, I take pride in bringing tough conversations and situations to the business community’s forefront. Appreciating Black history warrants a shift in our perspective.
James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Black history has given us home security systems, three-light traffic lights, refrigerated trucks, automatic elevator doors, and most recently, a leading Black female scientist helped create the COVID-19 vaccine that will help us fight the pandemic.
Black history represents progress — not progress from the perspective of African American growth alone; it represents progress of ideals, progress of justice, progress of Americans, and progress and the acceptance of innovative and creative thoughts.
Black history represents America’s truth. It represents that we don’t always have the right answer, but we are willing to put our best foot forward and make the necessary changes to correct our mistakes. Black history shows us that there is value in every single one of us, and we are stronger united than we are divided. No longer can heroes like Katherine Johnson go unrecognized for decades because of the pigmentation of their skin. When we celebrate Black history, we celebrate a nation of change, perseverance, and prosperity; we recognize liberty and justice for all, and we have to stand on those values boldly.
The horrors of slavery are a part of American history that will, unfortunately, live with us forever. But it should not, cannot define us. I encourage you to pivot to the positive and take the road less traveled by looking at the magnificent successes of Black Americans that have helped us emerge as a stronger nation, a united nation.
Ronnie Parker is the diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Hampton Roads Chamber.