Celebrating Black History
What is February to you? When we’re young, it’s a month that’s about days off from school and time spent decorating Valentine’s Day cards. As adults, it’s a shorter month to hit quotas, prepare tax returns, and fight for Feb 14 dinner reservations. If we don’t stop to think about it, this shortest month of the year can pass us by without a second thought. It’s easy to forget about honoring George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and all the Presidents – past and present. We may not pause to celebrate significant holidays in other cultures, such as Chinese New Year. And in this time of civil and racial unrest, we may or may not take the time to reflect on the fact that February is Black History Month. This month-long celebration is a recognition of the culture and achievements of African Americans throughout history.
The early beginnings of Black History Month can be traced back to 1915, when Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). Shortly after, in 1926, the organization created national Negro History week to take place the second weekend in February (chosen because it contained both Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass’s birthdays). For the next 50 years, Negro History week was celebrated to different extents by cities across America, and over time many college campuses chose to extend the week of recognition into a whole month. In 1976 President Gerald Ford officially named February Black History Month, and every year since then we have spent the month of February recognizing the contributions of African Americans to our country’s history. Each year this month provides us with the opportunity to engage with and learn about Black history… as individuals, as educators, and as team members.
Educators may be interested to know that Black History Month was celebrated on college campuses before it was widely celebrated by federal or even local governments. In 1970, the Black United Students, along with a group of Black educators, planned and hosted the first Black History Month celebration at Kent State University. Ever since then, schools have been some of the most active sites for celebrating Black History Month. This makes sense, considering that the initial intent was to spread knowledge about African American history and the achievements of notable Black Americans, and schools are by nature, great places for this! Exploring Black History Month in the classroom provides a way to help your students engage in this celebration by learning about and connecting to various Black historical figures.
To further the purpose of Black History Month in your classroom, pick a variety of Black leaders from history to highlight and learn about. There are so many great individuals to choose from, such as Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey. To help learn about their contributions to history as well as their leadership characteristics, have your students do one of the following activities:
- Create a resume outlining their accomplishments
- Come up with a new award that they would award this person today
- Write a short story about a pivotal moment in their own life that connects with something about the leaders
- Write a poem about what makes these individuals great leaders
The 2021 Black History Month theme is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity”. Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History picks a theme to serve as a particular lens through which to consider Black culture and history. This year’s theme goes beyond celebrating the achievements of individuals throughout history and focuses on the collective impact of the identity and diversity represented by a Black family. Approaching Black History Month through the lens of this theme can help you reflect on the importance of this month more intentionally with your team.
Utilize this month to start (or continue) a deeper look into the representation, identity and diversity of your own team. To start, pick some notable Black historical figures and do some research on who they were, what they did/who they worked with, and the characteristics that helped them to succeed. Then, take some time to share what you learned with your team. Consider dedicating ten minutes at the start of a meeting to having everyone share one or two things they learned about the person they researched and how their takeaways can be applied to your team.
As a next step, have your team explore their own personal identity through a different variation of our Activity of the Month, Appreciation Windows.
- Instead of focusing on appreciation, have your team focus on this being the window to their identity.
- Have each person choose three to five words that inform the team about aspects of their identity that are important to them, play a large role in their work life, or that they just want to share.
- Let each person design and decorate their windows as they desire.
- Consider again dedicating ten minutes at the start of a meeting for everyone to share.
*Meet the Author*
The Leadership Inspirations Content Team has written over 300 leadership lessons in the past year alone! They are dedicated to continuing to deliver the most relevant leadership development content for you and your classroom or team.
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