February is Black History Month. Your organization’s Black History Month celebration doesn’t have to be challenging, but it should be thoughtful and strategic (and you do need to get started ASAP – you’re late)!
Check out diversity trainer Paula Edgar’s latest blog post with more than 20 strategies for making your Black History Month impactful for all.
Paula says, last week was so special and historic. We reflected on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, and we celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first Black woman Vice President of the United States!
As a Black woman lawyer, leader and anti-racism educator, I celebrate Black history all year long.That being said, if at this point, your organization has not yet started planning for Black History Month, you are late (I can help – see below)!
Honoring the history and contributions of Black people is especially important this year, as we reflect on the collective trauma that we all experienced in 2020 (the global pandemic, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, etc.). Additionally, recent events have spotlighted the disparate response to, and treatment of people marching in support of the Black Lives Matter movement juxtaposed against the responses to the perpetrators of the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol.
There is much work to do.
As you consider the many suggestions and recommendations I share below, be thoughtful and responsive to the ways in which Black employees within your organization feel that they belong, are valued, and are included.
Here are some ideas on planning Black History Month initiatives this year:
- Make it a priority. As a diversity consultant, one frequent complaint I hear about Black History Month celebrations is that they are not prioritized, and efforts can feel disingenuous. It is beneficial, even if you started late this year, to commit to this being an ongoing effort that will be sustained throughout the year, as opposed to only highlighted during February. Be transparent and vocal about your intentions. Make sure that there are opportunities at all times for feedback. This will allow you to continue to improve on your efforts to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and to shift towards anti-racism in your intent and your impact.
- Use your resources. If you have not yet done so, check in with your Black affinity group or employee resource group (ERG). You should start by connecting with the chairs or group leaders to see if there are any ideas planned or under consideration to commemorate Black History Month that the entire organization can take part in or support.
- If they have not planned anything yet, ask for their thoughts or ideas as to what can be done. Note: This is a place for suggestions from them, not a mandate that they provide you with their ideas or resources. As I have spoken about before, one of the ways in which Black people are continually traumatized within the workplace is by having to do extra work around diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is generally not compensated with time, money, or any other recognition.
- If you don’t have affinity groups or a diversity council (why?), check-in with your organization’s leadership for ideas and support. If applicable, you should also consider collaborating with your clients on an event or initiative.
- Reflect on Black history. Think about Black leaders and Black trailblazers in your industry. One way of commemorating Black History Month is to collect resources and distribute them throughout the month, essentially educating (or re-educating) the people within your organization about the impact of Black pioneers within your industry.
- Another idea is to have a fireside chat or a speaker series that features impactful or prominent Black people within your industry (i.e. someone who is an author, researcher, or speaker). You might feature them to discuss their perspective on topics such as history, current events, the work that they’ve done, or their particular career trajectory and accomplishments.
- Along the same vein, bring in a historian, author, or speaker to talk about the history and impact of anti-Black and systemic racism in this country, how it continues to perpetuate itself in society today, and how to have difficult conversations on the topic.
- Incorporate company-wide activities.
- Facilitated dialogues are a great way to engage your colleagues and I recommend that you do so with a trained facilitator. Those conversations tend to go smoother, and employees feel safer, especially if anonymous feedback tools are used during the discussion. A dialogue or town hall could include discussions with leaders, and/or employees (who would like to participate, not who are compelled to do so), or industry leaders.
- Commit to supporting Black-owned and operated businesses. This could include supporting a Black-owned bookstore, for example, if you’re planning a book club or group recommended reading.
- Consider supporting Black organizations that are making a difference and nonprofits that support the Black community or who are impactful in advancing racial justice by organizing a company donation and/or employee match.
- If not already in place, you can commit to implementing an organizational initiative to increase the use of Black vendors and consultants.
- Promote Black art, film, music and literature. Consider providing a list with links to different artists and/or asking for recommendations from your employees (this doesn’t have to be just Black employees) on films, art, music, etc.
- Another idea is to host a film viewing and networking event. The framework might include providing an afternoon off work where employees commit to using the time to view the same film, and then having either a post-viewing happy hour and discussion, or a virtual discussion via Zoom, Slack or another internal chat function utilized (making sure it is a moderated forum for the comfort/safety of all participants).
- A fun way to let loose and engage your employees while celebrating Black History Month is to host a Black History Month trivia event. Light competition also provides an opportunity for colleagues to de-stress and form stronger bonds. There are a number of places to find potential questions for trivia, but it’s important to have diverse employee perspectives who will have the opportunity to review the questions and the answers before the event. This is not just for accuracy, but to ensure inclusivity.
- Plan a workshop. The workshop could be on a myriad of topics, including starting the conversation on unconscious bias, exploring allyship and anti-racism. For your reference, I am including my speaker sheet here.
- Organize a volunteer project for employees. Make sure you have multiple options, including virtual volunteer opportunities. There are a number of different things you can do together to make an impact in your community collectively.
- Create a reverse mentorship opportunity. This is a harder suggestion to implement, but if you do it right, it can be really impactful. The idea is based on a library in Denmark that implemented a Human Library to “Create a safe space for dialogue where topics are discussed openly between our human books and their readers.” Unlike the Human Library, this event would be focused solely on diversity, equity, and inclusion. To do this, gather a group of diverse volunteers (note the volunteer part) who then take part in a speed-networking type session, where volunteers can share their experiences and answer questions. The event would be open to everyone, making sure that there are different levels of leadership represented as well as a variety of affinity groups. The event would provide an opportunity for visibility and learning for all employees by highlighting shared experiences and encouraging dialogue.
- Create an employee share opportunity. Turn your next all-staff meeting into an engaging event where employees can voluntarily speak about their heritage and share what Black History Month means to them. Get creative with presentations and décor (this can be done via Zoom and in person).
- Create a Slack channel: as mentioned earlier, Slack is a fun and easy way to communicate and keep employees engaged and informed all month long. Create a #blackhistorymonth Slack channel to share “Slack Facts,” keep employees up to date about relevant events and more. Seek volunteer employees to post regularly in the channel about historical figures and other facts about Black history to encourage a culture of learning.
- Observe best practices. Make sure that your event(s) and initiatives go smoothly by following these best practices.
- Make it a company-wide effort
- Ensure leadership is on board, vocal, and visible in their interactions.
- Don’t single anyone out to plan or present (make sure that any participation from Black employees is voluntary only)
- Consider areas for growth and continuity: Reflect on what you’ve done previously for Black History Month, or other diversity efforts to see if you can incorporate additional DEI building blocks for continued learning and engagement.
For example, what did your company do for Juneteenth? What were your post George Floyd and other racial injustice responses? What initiatives does the organization currently have in place to support Black employees, to educate all employees and what else can be done to continue these efforts?
What is your organization doing for Black History Month? What other ideas or recommendations do you have? I would love to hear your feedback! Please let me know if you use any of the ideas I have shared, and what the response was to the initiative. Please share this with colleagues who might need this resource!