As we close out this year’s recognition of Black History Month, I am thinking about my daughter and son. They both appreciate diversity and inclusion and are opened minded, and full of life. But I also fear, given the atmosphere in this country today, they may become jaded and discouraged.
I always say to them that great leaders emerge in times of change and adversity. It’s never been more important to leverage their personal commitment to D&I. I believe that’s true for all of us and one that I hope we continue to through the rest of the year.
It’s our responsibility this month and beyond to take the beauty of our past and press it forward, so we can create the world we want to live in.
For me, the key is to make time for reflection and gratitude. I think about the community I grew up in, and those individuals that had a positive impact on my life, starting first and foremost with my parents.
My parents are my African-American heroes. They instilled in me a strong sense of self and identity at an early age, teaching me life principles that have shaped me into who I am today, and made me extremely proud of my African-American heritage.
I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and am a proud product of the Detroit Public School system. My mother was a professional jazz pianist and singer, who first taught me about diversity through music and to appreciate all styles of music. She’d also tell me stories about how early in her career when she played nightclubs on Miami Beach — which at that time was segregated — that although she could perform in the clubs, she wasn’t welcomed in the clubs as a customer. She couldn’t use the dressing rooms in local stores to try on clothes that she had purchased. Despite these experiences she always embraced diversity and inclusion and taught me the importance of respecting differences in people.
My father was a writer and an editor for the Michigan Chronicle, the Black newspaper serving Detroit. He taught me about Black history through his experiences and articles he wrote for the Chronicle, covering events such as the Black Panther movement, the Detroit riots and their aftermath and the civil rights movement. Dad’s perspectives on events he wrote about were often very different from what was communicated through mainstream media. So he, like my mother, taught me the power of diverse thinking and having your own voice.
In addition to my parents there were many mentors and teachers that impacted me in a positive way and taught me to be proud of who I am.
People like … my middle School music teacher, Ms. Hayes, engrained into my mind, body and soul the song from the late, great, Nina Simone, entitled “To be young gifted and Black”, particularly the last lyric, “to be young gifted and Black, is where it’s at.”
… My 8th grade math teacher, Ms. Story, who taught me math and discipline and that I should never believe anyone who told me I couldn’t be good at math, or wasn’t smart enough.
… My wife, married 27 years, a graduate of Spellman University, who supports me and reminds me what’s important every day.
…. And my colleagues. Work, for many of us, is a huge part of our lives. We don’t put aside our heritage when we enter the office. I am grateful for the many people I work with who support the value of all people in the workplace.
When Black History month ends this year, these people and my gratitude for them will remain.
I want my children and their generation to understand this. It’s our responsibility this month and beyond to take the beauty of our past and press it forward, so we can create the world we want to live in.